Review: Amazon Hacks (book)
Sometimes it seems that Amazon.com has been around since the birth of the Web. Now, I know this isn’t true, but I’ve got invoices going back to 1998. Since then, Amazon.com has gone from a simple online bookseller to a full-fledged online community featuring new and used products, auctions, customer feedback, an associates program, a third-party developer program, and more.
Amazon Hacks tries to provide tips on every major portion of Amazon.com—it covers topics from easily finding the newest Orson Scott Card novel to letting people purchase that book directly from your Web site (while making you a little money in the process).
Though the 100 hacks in Amazon Hacks are split into six chapters, each with their own base topic, the hacks more generally split into two categories: using Amazon.com’s Web site and using Amazon.com’s information.
Using Amazon.com’s Web Site
If you’ve ever shopped at Amazon.com, then the odds are pretty good that at least one of the hacks in the chapters Browsing and Searching, Controlling Your Information, Participating in the Amazon Community, and Selling Through Amazon will improve your shopping experience.
As the name suggests, the first chapter deals with finding what you want. It explains the different search options and tells you how to shorten Amazon.com links so they don’t take up multiple lines when you try to type them in by hand or e-mail them to friends. This particular hint is referenced throughout the book, so it’s definitely a good one to know.
The second chapter deals with many of the different options included with your Amazon.com account. Some of the information may seem old hat to Amazon veterans (how to create a Wish List or turn on 1-Click Buying), but other hints were new to me. For instance, I did not know I could use Amazon.com to get movie showtimes or remind me of people’s birthdays. At the very least, it’s nice to have this information all in one place instead of hunting around Amazon.com to find everything.
The third and fourth chapters are where Amazon Hacks starts to move beyond the basics of shopping and into what makes Amazon.com more than just a virtual shopping mall.
The third chapter deals with many of Amazon.com’s community features. It discusses using and writing product reviews, finding your friends on Amazon.com, and the Listmania! and Guide features.
The fourth chapter extends into selling your own items on Amazon.com. It covers the Marketplace option, where your items are listed on the same page as the corresponding items sold by Amazon.com (in the More Buying Choices box), Amazon Auctions, and the Honor System. Topics in this section cover getting your items listed and various ways to try to maximize your profit.
Using Amazon.com’s Information
Amazon Hacks’ transition from a guide to using the Amazon.com Web site to using Amazon.com’s information actually begins in chapters three and four, mixed in among the hints for user reviews and selling your items. Most of the non-Web site hints in these chapters deal with displaying information from Amazon.com on your own Web site and providing alternative interfaces for the various Amazon.com features.
For instance, there are hints for adding pop-up reviews from Amazon.com to your Web site, adding a “Currently Reading” list to your site, using the Honor System on your site, and listing the items you are selling on your site. As for alternative interfaces to Amazon.com, there are instructions for posting reviews and Guides remotely, as well as listing multiple items for sale at the same time. At first glance, these may not seem particularly useful, but they give you the ability to create highly-customized interfaces to Amazon.com. For instance, if you are selling something, you could provide the ability to leave comments on Amazon.com directly from your Web site. Another option would be to create a small, text-only page for posting when you are accessing the Internet from a slow connection.
Associates Program, the fifth chapter, is where Amazon Hacks really gets into using information from Amazon.com to your (financial) advantage. Through the Associates program, Amazon.com pays you if the people you direct to their Web site make a purchase. Amazon Hacks walks you through the various ways you can use the Associates program: linking to items, selling items on your Web site, letting users search Amazon.com, displaying banner ads, and a few others. This chapter also points you towards Web sites for creating your own online store and donating to charities. Also, if you run a Weblog using either Movable Type or Blosxom, you are in luck, because Amazon Hacks includes tips specifically aimed at generating Associate links for use with these tools.
The final chapter deals with the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Program, which lets developers access information from Amazon.com in their applications. Amazon Hacks covers both the REST (REpresentational State Transfer) and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) interfaces to Amazon.com, so the information contained in this chapter is useful for proponents of both protocols. Furthermore, it covers using AWS with scripting languages like Perl, Python, and PHP (as well as Visual Basic, but that’s a Windows thing and, as Mac users, we probably don’t care about that). There are also practical applications of AWS, like generating Web pages, RSS feeds, and Excel spreadsheets on the fly.
If you buy, sell, or develop software using Amazon.com, there is a good change you will find Amazon Hacks an invaluable reference for improving your experience. It covers many of Amazon.com’s features both in impressive breadth and depth. Although a small handful of the hints are Windows-only (like the Visual Basic hints and the hints for searching Amazon.com from inside Internet Explorer), the vast majority are usable by anybody.
When I picked up Amazon Hacks for the first time, I intended to read through it quickly and note the hints that really interested me. I managed to make it through, from cover to cover, and I now own a very dog-eared copy Amazon Hacks. If you frequent Amazon.com, I would not be surprised if your experience with Amazon Hacks is similar to my own.