What does the founder and CEO of Amazon.com want?
Well, I’ll tell you what he wants. He wants a Designs in Copper 61620 Pink Flamingo “Fred” Garden Stake. He wants jumper cables and a special bag to keep them in. He wants a Janis Joplin box set and CDs by Victoria Williams and Sinead O’Connor. He wants a Star Trek encyclopedia. He wants a videocassette of Pirates of Silicon Valley. He wants a new mouse. He wants a Hoffritz Stainless Steel Cheese Plane. Jeff Bezos wants a packet of film for a Polaroid i-zone camera. And dozens of other things, too.
I can tell you all this because I have obtained Bezos’ “Wish List.” I have obtained it by typing the name “Jeff Bezos” into the Wish List searcher on Amazon.com. The Wish List feature, which has been part of Amazon for a while now, is basically a page on which Amazon users can enumerate the objects of their desire (provided those objects are for sold by Amazon, of course). It works sort of like a bridal registry in that once you’ve made your list, anyone who’s aware of it can come along and see what you want and buy it for you, knowing that no one else has bought you the same thing, or at least not at Amazon.
All of this fits in neatly with Amazon’s longtime strategy of devising clever ways to make itself the default online retailer. Whatever the company’s ultimate fate, it’s been consistently innovative on this front, and my anecdotal conclusion would be that the Wish List feature does have a bit of a following.
What interests me about it, though, isn’t its impact on Amazon’s business but the whole notion of a public declaration of wants. I suppose this has its practical aspects, but it also seems to go conspicuous consumption one better: You may now partly define yourself not just by what you own, but by what you wish you owned. And you can leave it to anyone who types your name into the Wish List searcher to puzzle out the meaning of those aspirations. One could speculate, for instance, why it is that Bezos hopes for no less than four items related to the Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.
Anyway, even if he has obvious lead-by-example motivations here, you have to give Bezos credit for the way he dives in. He has, by the way, also filled out an Amazon personal profile page, where you can read his rave review of an $1,800 pair of binoculars (as well as his merciless pan of an Antonio Banderas movie called The 13th Warrior) and see a picture of him in his Austin Powers Halloween costume. Plus, you can see that his birthday is Jan. 12 – just around the corner, actually. Why, Jeff, is that a hint?