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What Exactly Are Obidos?

Someone recently referred to Joel's article "In Defense of Not-Invented-Here Syndrome"

Upon reading the article I came across the following passage:

"That e-commerce engine you bought? There's no way it's going to be as flexible as what Amazon does with obidos, which they wrote themselves"

I use Amazon all the time and always see "obidos" in the URL.  Can someone explain exactly what obidos are?

Matt Foley
Wednesday, June 4, 2003

I once sent an e-mail to about exactly this issue.  This was their reply:

Date: Thu, 18 Jan 2001 14:36:58 -0800 (PST)
From: <>
Message-ID: <>
To: <>
Subject: Your Technical Inquiry
X-UIDL: h)Z!!BhH"!U@-#!>J:!!

Dear Alex,

Thanks for writing back to  I'm sorry, but we cannot even reveal that information to you.  There are only a handful of programmers and applications folks who know what "Obidos" means, and I'm afraid that that information is, also, proprietary.  Please let us know if you have further questions, and thank you for shopping with us.

Best regards,

Brian Pinsker
Need an instant gift? Send an gift certificate via e-mail:

Alex Chernavsky
Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Every time I've seen obidos in an Amazon URL I think of "Abydos", one of the planets visited on the "Stargate" TV series and the movie. Abydos is actually a historic site in Egypt, according to Google. So perhaps it's a corruption of Abydos.

Programmers tend to be big SF buffs, so I don't think this is a reach.

Explanation #2 is that it's a boring internal acronym and you and I probably couldn't care less once we heard what the letters mean. :-)

Scifi geek
Wednesday, June 4, 2003

It's also a city in Portugal, for whatever that's worth.

Wednesday, June 4, 2003

> It's also a city in Portugal, for whatever that's worth.

I think it's classified as a city, but I'd call it more a small town :)

Of course, whenever someone mentions Óbidos, I automatically think about the Historical Center. I never really took the time to know the rest of the area, so I don't know if there's a "real city" (by modern standards).

The Historical Center is a beautiful little town, inside castle walls. If any of you ever comes to Portugal, go there. I can't recommend it enough.

I also recommend a trip to the Berlengas Isles (you take a boat in Peniche, which is very close to Óbidos). It's just a very large rock, and you have to do some walking to see it all, because the way is a bit twisted, but I've spent some great days there.

Just a warning - the sea is a little rough, in that area. When I went there (some 10 years ago), the crew would give these paper bags to the passengers. Funny thing is, you'd get *1* paper bag to use in the whole trip, i.e., coming and going :)
"Suravye ninto manshima taishite (Peace favor your sword)" (Shienaran salute)
"Life is a dream from which we all must wake before we can dream again" (Amys, Aiel Wise One)

Paulo Caetano
Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Must be an acronym

Online Bookstore Impulsed by Dumb Obsessive Shoppers

or something like that.

Dumb, but satisfied Amazon customer
Wednesday, June 4, 2003

It's the name of their CGI executable

Joel Spolsky
Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Expect the knock at the door Joel, you have to be suddenly and silently vanished away.

Simon Lucy
Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Nah, that would just give credence to his idle speculations... :P

unless of course he can give us something a little meatier to chew on, like why they're so paranoid, err... confidential, about it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Amazon is apparently having a little fun with you.  There is no secret as to the origin of "Obidos", and there are certainly more than a handful of engineers who know what it means!

All of the servers at Amazon are given names of cities along the Amazon river.  Obidos is a port city on the Amazon river in Brazil, and the name of the machine that runs the book database.  Simple as that.

If you're interested in Obidos and speak Portuguese, here's their web site:


Eric Lippert
Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Isn't it the operating system your light sabre runs?

David Clayworth
Wednesday, June 4, 2003

I had a friend interview for a job at Amazon. All of their CGI "scripts" are written in C/C++. cra-zay!!

Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Yes it must be crazy, perhaps being amongst the heaviest loaded servers around has something to do with it.

Simon Lucy
Wednesday, June 4, 2003

I write cgi programs for high performance apps in C.  Why?  Avoid loading an interpreter. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Perhaps the reason that at the time the original programs were written nothing else (no cgi, and definitely no modperl, asp or php) was a major factor in their choice of language.

Yahoo are (well until they decided to move to php a year or so ago also a C only house).

Ben Thompson
Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Nobody else here thinks of the Obidil Scroll from Return to Zork?
Wednesday, June 4, 2003


If that's the case then how come every time you go to Amazon you get obidos.  You'd think you'd get some of the other cities once in a while.  I agree with Joel.

Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Well, one day about a year ago I asked a close personal friend of mine -- who at the time was a code architect at amazon -- what "obidos" meant.  That's what she told me.  I'm just passing it along.

However it is 100% fine with me if you choose to not believe me.  My feelings will not be hurt.


Eric Lippert
Wednesday, June 4, 2003

You mean Amazon has to write cgi in C?  Man why don't they use the oft suggested here asp and access?

Thursday, June 5, 2003

What's a Zork?

Thursday, June 5, 2003

What is Zork?

Zork was one of the first computer games, written back in the 1970's.

This is a good time waster:
Thursday, June 5, 2003

Hmm, something's wrong with those webpages, the graphics and sound effects aren't working. All I get is a bunch of text...

Thursday, June 5, 2003

> Hmm, something's wrong with those webpages, the
> graphics and sound effects aren't working. All I get is a
> bunch of text...

Just imagine it's the early 80's.

"Hmm, something's wrong with this - what did you call it, webpage? - It's got flashy graphics and sound effects. Where's all the text?"
Thursday, June 5, 2003

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