Tagging Amazon's secret investment

Posted by: Rob Hof on February 09, 2005

Salon.com’s Katharine Mieszkowski just outed Amazon.com as the sole investor in an intriguing startup, 43 Things, that uses tagging to help people get important goals accomplished. Given that Amazon tried at first to conceal the investment, Mieszkowski implies some kind of nefarious plot in which Amazon’s trying to listen in on people’s whispered dreams. I can’t get that worked up about it. …

Yes, Amazon does tend to be more secretive about its plans than it seemingly needs to be. And this is a case that goes to show that trying to control your message too much can backfire. But after all, people are, er, posting these supposedly intimate goals on a public site. And my hunch is, most folks would be more ready, not less, to reveal their innermost desires to 43 Things if they knew it was backed by a company to which they've already entrusted their credit cards many times before.

UPDATE: A Tech Beat reader, Frank Ruscica, passes along an email he got from last December from Josh Peterson, CEO of Robot Co-op, the parent company of 43 Things. It offers a few clues about how 43 Things came to be and where it's heading. Thanks, Frank!

Here is Josh's e-mail:

"I just spent about an hour surfing around [Ruscica's MSFT-/VC-approved business plan for a provider of customized lifelong learning and career services (CLLCS)] with a bit of amazement. I run a little company...We are a team of folks who worked together at Amazon.com developing that company's personalization and recommendations team and systems. We spent about 1.5 years thinking about what we wanted to build next. We thought a lot about online education tools. We thought a lot about classified ads and job networks. We thought a lot about reputation systems. We thought a bit about personalized advertising systems. We thought a lot about blogging and social networking systems. Eventually, we came up with the idea behind 43 Things.

"...I guess I'm mostly just fascinated that we've been working a very similar vein to the one you describe, without having a solid name for it (we call it 'the age of the amateur' or 'networks of shared experiences' instead of CLLCS, but believe me, we are talking about the same patterns and markets, if not in exactly the same way). Thanks for sharing what you have - its fascinating stuff."

There's also a little more explanation from Robot Co-op itself here.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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