43 Things Amazon conspiracy

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 10, 2005

There's a doozy of an "exposé" about the company behind 43 Things, Robot Co-op, in Salon. The article's author asserts that because 1) Amazon.com is an investor, 2) they didn't want anyone to know about it at the present time, and 3) the company's employees were a bit "oh shit, how did you know that?" panicky when asked about the deal, that Robot Co-op is nothing but a thin cover for some nefarious activity on the part of Amazon to mine the web's hopes and dreams.

If you take your tin foil hat off for a few minutes, you might realize that it's probably not as bad as all that.

1) If Amazon wanted to keep this quiet, why the company web site with a weblog on the front page detailing what the company is up to? Post after post of intentional misdirection? (Oop, hang on....hey honey, where's my razor?)

2) The front page of the site links to the personal web sites of all the employees that have them. Again, pretty open for such a supposedly stealthy undertaking. (Unless all those employees and their sites are fake!)

3) Did I mention that Amazon is doing a horrible job keeping this whole thing quiet? You'd think that Erik, Josh, and Amazon's PR department would have been a little more prepared and in sync in the event that someone found out about their little secret. "Nobody's supposed to know that" is obviously not what you say when a reporter calls you about a company's investor unless you're truly unprepared.

4) What company ever wants their business details to go public before they are ready to make an announcement? Answer: no company whatsoever. Since when is waiting to announce an investment an attempt to cover something up?

5) Does funding a company mean that the funder gets access to all the fundee's data? Until we know the terms of the deal, it's just idle speculation.

6) The article says, "The people posting their hopes, dreams and aspirations to 43 Things probably don't realize that they're effectively whispering them in the ear of the Web's biggest retailer, a multibillion-dollar, publicly traded company." Perhaps Salon doesn't realize that the people posting their hopes and dreams to 43 Things are effectively whispering them to the whole world because — if you'll forgive me channeling Dooce here — ALL OF THAT INFORMATION IS PUBLICALLY AVAILABLE ON THEIR WEB SITE. Thousands of hopes and dreams, free for the taking.

I agree that it's important to ask questions about how closely Amazon is involved with 43 Things, their data sharing policy, and future plans between the two companies (I could see Amazon acquiring 43 Things, even before news of the investment came out...I mean, those guys all worked at Amazon and are working on stuff that Amazon would be interested it), but it just doesn't make sense at this point to assume that Amazon is orchestrating 43 Things from their corporate HQ.

See also:
- A less alarmist article on news.com
- Robot Co-op's announcement of the Amazon investment
- Robot Co-op on how the company came about (good stuff in the comments)