Feb 10, 2014

Amazon Web Services as Metaphor

Amazon Web Services are defined as "a set of services that together form a reliable, scalable, and inexpensive computing platform in the cloud.” This definition belies just how profound those sets of services actually are. I remember back in 2008 watching Nate, Todd, Kortina, others, spin up web apps in seconds, letting their creative juices flow almost instantaneously from idea into live services (from thought into expression), some that worked and some that never saw widespread visibility. Those that worked, we added capacity, services, as needed, thus variablizing the entire product development process. For someone like me who grew up in the Internet of 1997, to watch this was nothing short of revelatory. 

But aside from the technical aspects of AWS, as impressive as they may be, maybe they also created another more meaningful change in the way we all work. By changing the context of the provision of back end technical services, AWS created an explosion in the types of content - web services - that were then created (context > content).

But maybe they also shaped, or rather re-shaped, the metaphor of creation in a fundamental way, by breaking down what was once thought of as core and instead providing those on a variable, unbundled, basis. And by doing so dramatically expanded what was possible for entrepreneurs.

I think the same thing, the same metaphorical change, is happening now in domains outside pure Internet services. As such we are seeing emerging "AWS like" stacks that support the creation of new businesses in other areas and ways, but represent the same type of profound change in freeing up the creativity of people to build. And as I think about it - this is thrilling.

For example, take the world of science, scientific discovery, scientific entrepreneurialism. Here's what a potential "AWS" stack looks like today: Experiment is a way to fund scientific discoveries; qb3 is a biosciences incubator network in California; Science Exchange is a marketplace for experiments from leading and upcoming labs; Peerj is an open access research publisher. This stack (and I am just listing four pieces) thus supports science entrepreneurs through a set of services that includes research, funding, incubation and experimentation. And this is not theoretical - it's happening - Pearlstein Lab has used a combination of Experiment, Angel List, Rocket Hub, Science Exchange and qb3 to assist and fund their scientific and innovative endeavors. 

The same thing is happening in the consumer products space. Here is the emerging stack for consumer products startups: Incubation Station, in Austin, an accelerator for CPG; Circle Up, connecting consumer brands with investors; Whole Foods, through their local producer loan programs; and Storefront, temporary retail space. 

What about film making - maybe the stack here includes Kickstarter, VHX and VimeoUSV has made multiple investments in all these areas.

What these all represent to me are new stacks for different domains that help solve financing, production and distribution problems. But also something much more - they are the result of a profound shift in the way creation happens, a shift away from friction to free form, on-the-fly, componentized innovation. Just like Amazon Web Services taught us.

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