An Amazon.com Christmas: The Video

Posted by: Rob Hof on December 27, 2005

I toured Amazon.com’s massive, automated distribution center in Fernley, Nevada, a couple weeks ago, and we ran a slide show on how it works. I really wanted to include video on the slides, but I couldn’t find a way to upload them to a separate video service fast enough. I tried Google’s video upload service, and I’m STILL waiting for it to be “verified,” whatever that means. I couldn’t get Ourmedia or Grouper to work for me (which easily could be the result of my particular setup or some instruction I missed). So on the advice of a reader (Thanks, Josh Morgan!), I tried Revver, and it seems to work.

Since the reason for offering these videos is rather moot now, I’m mostly doing this as a sort of test of one way to provide video, or at least video links, on this blog. Let me know what you think.

Anyway, here are some links to video that I shot with my digital camera. It won’t win any awards—and a warning, even though they’re very short, they take awhile to load—but it’s kind of fun to see how the machinery works. So here goes:

Here’s a worker at the start of the distribution process loading green “totes.” Products are picked from endless shelves, placed into the totes, and later sorted into individual customer orders as they run through some nine miles of conveyors.

Machinery in the “induction” area whisks products that have just been scanned by a worker into wooden “tilt trays” that later dump products into a chute that collects all the orders for a particular customer. It’s kind of spooky how intelligently it seems to avoid crowding more than one product onto a tray.

This so-called Crisplant machinery automatically sorts orders that individual customers have placed for multiple items, dropping them one by one into the same chute. It’s almost unimaginable this even works at all.

We actually found senior VP of operations Jeff Wilke’s order. Here, he’s talking about why digital cameras and other consumer electronics products are a profitable kind of item for Amazon to stock and sell.

One of the last steps in the distribution process is here, a machine that stamps the box with the address.

Finally, the package is deposited for outbound delivery, which is where you really see how much stuff Amazon sells and distributes. From here, packages are manually sorted depending on where they’re going to be shipped.

By the end, it’s abundantly apparent that Amazon has built much, much more than a slick Web site. But we won’t know until early next year how well it performed at this least virtual of its tasks.

Reader Comments

Carlos Leyva

December 28, 2005 12:49 PM

Rob,

It looks like the Revver "video machinery" is not working. I registered on their site and came back and clicked on one of the videos. It takes me to Revver and asks for a login and password which I subsequently provide, and after allowing me to login I get a message saying "page not found". Hope this helps.

Carlos

Josh Felser

December 28, 2005 11:14 PM

Great to hear that you thought to try Grouper to meet your video needs. Since we have only received positive reviews of our video sharing solution, I was taken aback to hear Grouper did not work for you. Once you download our software you can share one or 100 videos with a few clicks of the mouse with our batch tag, encode and upload feature. We also make video sharing easy by providing one integrated solution that enables you to import from your camera, effortlessly edit your video and then share it with friends, family and the world on our web site.

JD Lasica

December 29, 2005 12:43 AM

Sorry you had a problem, Rob. Ourmedia works 95% of the time; when it doesn't, an email to our moderator team will usually do the trick. And we don't review submissions for approval, as Google Video does.

Revver's an interesting newcomer, though.

Rob Hof

December 29, 2005 12:58 AM

JD and Josh: I appreciate your comments, and I plan to give your services another shot--both on future video and (nearer-term) just to see how they work and report back. I've heard good things about both, and it seems like you each have done a lot of thinking about how best to help people present their creations. If I hadn't been in rather a hurry to post these, I might have taken more time at the outset to dig in and figure out what wasn't working--it could easily be some problem of mine, from a VPN setup or some other weird twist we have on our network to some part of the process I just got wrong. Sorry I couldn't do that this time.

Fred Simmons

December 29, 2005 5:59 AM

Hi Rob, it is not necessary for readers of your column to register to view Revver videos. You should modify the URLs you are using to point to the Revver videos from the form http://www.revver.com/upload/1/7796/view/ to http://www.revver.com/video/7796/ (ie. the URL in the "Grab this Video" section that appears under your video on the Revver site).

The Grab this Video section also provides some other ways you can integrate a Revver video into your article.

Rob Hof

December 29, 2005 10:07 AM

Fred, thanks very much! That works MUCH better.

Robin Brophy

January 2, 2006 7:13 PM

JD, itunes does not transfer revver videos into my video ipod, is there a such limitation?

Mark Sigal

January 4, 2006 9:35 PM

Hi Rob,

I strongly suggest you check out vSocial. No downloads required, and not only can you embed videos directly into your posts, but when viewers click the interactive portions of the clip (e.g., viewing user comments and tags, forwarding the clip to friends or grabbing video to put into their blog or MySpace page), it doesn't take visitors off of your page as some of these other services do.

Our core differentiation beyond being fast and brain dead simple to the point that we just work without caveats, is that we provide lots of tools to enable you to "do something" with the video beyond just upload and share.

So, for example, in the 5-6 videos that make up your Amazon post, we provide something called a video roll. What is a video roll? Basically, it allows you to take a compilation of clips and incorporate them into a single "reel" that can be watched in "clip by clip" mode or in "play all videos" mode. Very slick from the perspective of a story telling device.

Plus, we provide a tool called Blog It!, which enables Blogger and TypePad users to post a full video blog directly to their TypePad/Blogger blog from the vSocial site using browser based WYSIWYG tools.

To see-touch-feel this and validate yourself go to the About Page (http://www.vsocial.com/about.php) on vSocial and click on the "Play All Videos" button in the video roll embedded in the page. After that, spend 5-10 minutes on the site, and it will be clear why we are growing like a weed.

Happy to take you through the full tour if interested, and share where we are headed.

Regards,

Mark
-----
vSocial: The Video Clip Sharing Community: www.vsocial.com
Tell stories, start conversations, extend the web -- with video.

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. 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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