Amazon Unbox: "Worst Tech", interesting ideas...

The Amazon Unbox service received the #2 placement on CNET's Worst Tech of Q3 2006. To be honest, I installed it for a while and was definitely not a believer in the first iteration. Still, there are some interesting ideas in it.

I will give you, there are annoying things about Unbox. You can hunt these down anywhere on the web. On the other hand, Amazon should be given at least a gold star for sticking themselves out there. Web 2.0 is all about the perpetual beta, getting the idea out there and incrementally improving it with use. Here are some interesting kernels that makes me wary of outright dismissing Unbox because of a few bad experiences:
- They are experimenting in a "rental" system without any physical media. This results in your PC being permanently connected to the Internet and frequently checking in with Amazon but, seriously, most of us downloading video are permanently on the Internet. Let's not mistake bugs in the system with an interesting business model. I can download a video and once I hit play I have 24 hours to watch it. I doubt these values are hardcoded and they are easy to tweak as feedback comes in. The video stays on my machine for 30 days and then retracts back to Amazon.com. My video library on my machine is essentially self-maintaining (and with > 2GB per movie, is that a bad thing?)
- Remote Load. I haven't played with this, but here is the theory...Unbox is loaded on several of my PCs and I can purchase from 1 pc, but have it sent to another PC. While I sit here and type my blog, I can rent "V for Vendetta" and have it sent to my media center PC connected to my TV (ok, I don't really have one of those...but...) and when I'm done with my blog entry, go down and press play to watch on my movie in DVD quality! Remote load and DVD quality is a gamble on the future marriage of media center and your television, and its a good bet.
- What's going on in the download utility? Here's my thing, I can't find a dissection of Amazon Unbox download design and implementation, I googled and googled to no avail. Here's what I know: Amazon S3 and BitTorrent are married at the API level. Using the combination, you can easily conceive of a warehouse and media distribution mechanism not unlike Amazon's physical distribution system. This type of distribution system is necessary so you don't choke off Seattle's network when a big new movie comes out and people flock to Amazon Unbox to get it.

There is some interesting stuff going on here. The marrying of the sheer amount of storage required for video, the virtualizing of the connected clients into a managed storage grid, the CPU necessary to be cranking through the licensing and the client-stored video files, this is a large and complex system. Of course it will be buggy on the first time around. The question is whether they will get it right and become the defacto distributor of licensed video content. Perhaps a partnership with Tivo or another DVR company to avoid the cable company lock? Perhaps a partnership with a cable company to provide a better on-demand service than what the cable company can provide?

So, I may side with CNET on their "Worst Tech" list for Amazon Unbox, Iteration 1, but I'm not prepared to count them out. This is, if anything, an interesting case study in extending a storage grid containing licensed content into your home.

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