Today, in the Invent Like An Owner Podcast, Dave speaks with Rebecca Allen. They travel through memory lane by talking about the restructuring of Amazon’s catalog using Base 36, the complications of recycling ISBNs that led to the creation of Amazon’s Standard Identification Number (ASIN), how the Title Authority feature helped customers find books through associations, the seemingly impossible to accomplish Used Books category, and so much more.
Rebecca Allen is a former Software Engineer at Amazon from March 1996 to September 1998. She helped in the programming of creating and maintaining the book catalog, creating tools to modify the Amazon catalog, and much more.
- Rebecca Allen’s LinkedIn
- Two deeper-dive articles Rebecca wrote for this episode:
- Interview with Amazon’s Technical Co-founder And Employee #1, Shel Kaphan
- Interview with engineer Paul Davis (Second Employee at Amazon)
- Find Dave on LinkedIn and Twitter
Sponsored by Skilljar.com founded by ex-Amazonians Sandi Lin and Jason Stewart. Skilljar is transforming the way enterprises onboard, engage, and retain their customers.
Memorable Quote from the Interview, discussing helpful topics for entrepreneurs then and now:“I’m a big believer in Bias for Action. But don’t just ‘do something’. Instead, take in the scene and know your problem. If you know your problem, your solution will be better.” — Rebecca Allen Click To Tweet
Fun Photos and Memorabilia
What to Listen For:
- 00:00 Intro
- 02:36 Discovering Amazon and then joining the team
- 05:25 Hired to work on catalog and search engine
- 07:12 The original catalog sources weren’t customer facing
- 10:16 Who made the requests to edit the catalog
- 11:27 Developing the typo tool to allow the catalog department to fix content errors
- 14:03 The complications of recycling ISBNs; building the Amazon Standard Identification Number (ASIN)
- 21:31 People were worried about the backward compatibility of ASINs
- 24:09 ASINs have been increasing rapidly over the years
- 27:37 Base 36 is a really unique solution, but has worked extremely well
- 29:26 Definition of Biblio Records
- 34:38 What is Title Authority?
- 37:21 Helping readers find what they want through associations
- 41:38 Have ASINs been licensed or was it built just for Amazon?
- 42:35 Introducing the Used Books catalog from the Library of Congress
- 45:36 Order database broke down when Used Books was launched
- 48:47 Differing opinions and the pressure to convince people
- 50:58 Coming up with alphabetical search results
- 54:21 How the catalog set up Amazon competitively
- 57:00 “If you know your problem, your solution will be better.” – Rebecca Allen
Neil Roseman says
What a terrific episode. Thanks for sharing this Rebecca and Dave. We should all be so lucky to have one of our software/technology deigns be as elegant and durable as Rebecca’s. The ASIN made my first job at Amazon (launching the Music Store in 1998) possible and is ubiquitous on the internet today. So great to hear her story.