Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, is transforming the e-commerce giant into the biggest name in digital media.

The most innovative and practical thinkers of our time.
Aug. 2 2011 6:57 AM

Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of Amazon.com

How he's transforming the e-commerce giant into the biggest name in digital media.

Jeff Bezos. Click image to expand.
Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos doesn't run the world's most valuable tech company (that's Steve Jobs), the most dominant Internet firm (Larry Page), or the most socially disruptive website (Mark Zuckerberg). But Bezos makes Slate's Top Right list because Amazon stands alone in one very important respect: It is the most interesting company in tech, the one that's always confounding predictions, and exceeding expectations, across an astonishingly broad playing field.

While Amazon's traditional e-commerce business is going gangbusters—net sales for the second quarter were up 51 percent over the same period last year—Bezos keeps pushing into new, sometimes far-flung opportunities. There's the Kindle, of course, which, after the iPhone, is the most important consumer electronics device released in the last five years. Amazon's reader has disrupted the publishing industry, remade how we all get books, and thrived despite Apple's iPad onslaught. Meanwhile, Amazon Web Services, the company's cloud storage system, has become a boon to startups; by persuading nearly every innovative company in Silicon Valley to store its data on Amazon's servers, Bezos has put himself at the center of tech innovation. Amazon has also quietly become a massive retailer of digital goods—besides books, it sells and rents movies, music, and now Android apps. This last effort is reportedly a precursor to an Amazon-branded Android tablet that will launch in the fall.

Slate's list of the 25 Americans who combine inventive genius and practicality—our best real-world problem solvers. Read more about how we chose them.

The common tech-industry rap against Bezos is that he's got a knack for making really great second-place products and services—Amazon is behind Apple in music, behind Netflix in movies, and behind Google in Android apps. This criticism sets up most observers to underestimate Bezos, and it misses the point. While Bezos' many rivals are building pieces of a digital goods empire, Amazon is a powerhouse across every product category, whether physical or binary.

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Check out the rest of our technology Top Right:

Cynthia Breazeal, director of the Personal Robots Group at the MIT Media Lab.

David Ferrucci, lead researcher for IBM's Watson project.

Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy.

Brian Tucker, president of GeoHazards International.

Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.

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