I believe this will be the first winter gift giving season where most people receiving gifts might plausibly be assumed to have the ability to read a kindle ebook. This is not to say that they own a kindle or have ever even seen one in real life. But most people could get a free kindle reader and read a kindle ebook on a PC, Mac, iPhone or iPad or iTouch, blackberry, etc. This was not the case in previous winter gift giving seasons. Thus the relative desire of people to give ebooks has gotten much more fulfillable in principle and is therefore more important to Amazon to implement.
If Amazon implemented a gift feature that let anyone with access to a browser send free ebooks (or a message to that effect) to any email address, Amazon would be inviting spam of a variety of forms. (Some obvious ones: can you just imagine religious organizations bombing every email address they could lay hands on with their scripture of choice? Or some marketing organization posting a spiel as a free book on amazon and then spamming it to everyone?) It might also incur large cellular costs. And that is ignoring the massive PR debacle. (Massive PR debacle could still occur if, for instance, someone got hold of a list of schoolkids' emails and sent them all copies of Nabokov's _Lolita_. Hell, copies of Huck Finn would work, for that matter.)
That brings me to the real problem where all the solutions lie as well. Here are my predictions for how Amazon will implement giving ebooks for kindle.
First, they will require the giver to log in to a valid Amazon account with one-click settings turned on. This will prevent most spam and simplify the screens in the gift process. It should also slow underage kids down somewhat.
Second, they will not let you give free ebooks. I further bet they won't even forward a recommendation of a free ebook.
Third, they will not let the giver know whether the recipient owns a kindle or whether the recipient already owns the book. They better not or there will be trouble, because this would be a massive violation of privacy and I could see public figures being targeted.
Finally, they will need to have a limit on who you can send gifts to. They can give the recipient the option of declining the gift in favor of store credit, but I doubt they want to get involved in unclaimed property laws. I am guessing they will limit recipients to either Amazon account holders or at least people who will round trip a response to a email notice that someone gave them a gift.
Here's what I think it would look like to a giver:
I go to Amazon. I browse for books. Assuming my one-click settings are turned on and Amazon thinks it knows who I am, when I'm looking at the detail page for a kindle book, I can click on the buy now button. It'll show me the list of which-kindle-to-deliver-it-to, and the bottom option would be "this is a gift". Alternatively, there'd be a separate buy-now button which would be buy-this-as-a-gift.
At that point, you'd be dropped into the confirm-your-password, and from there, it'll need to collect some information about who the gift is for. I think it'll want an e-mail address, and if it doesn't know that e-mail address already, it'll say something like, sorry, you can't send directly to this e-mail address, but you can invite them to sign up (sort of like the they-don't-have-a-wish-list page). If it does know that e-mail address, and that person hasn't opted out of (or failed to opt in for) receiving kindle books as gifts (more on that momentarily), it'll then do the little do-you-want-to-send-a-gift-message dance. They might do something really nice, too, like let you send a gift message that shows up in the notification e-mail, and separately provide an "inscription" for the ebook, which would be a special case of annotations in the ebook.
From the recipient's perspective, here's what gift giving would look like. You'd have the choice of _not_ receiving kindle ebooks as gifts: either an opt in (yes, I would like to let people send me kindle ebooks) or an opt out (no, I do not want to let people send me kindle ebooks). I don't think it matters which one they choose, but someone out there probably could generate some pros and cons.
[ETA: Wow, another two minutes of thought answered that question. I think they'll make it so if you've bought at least one kindle e-book for yourself, you are opted-in and have to opt-out manually. If you've never bought a kindle e-book for yourself, then you have to opt-in manually. They can stick on the opt in/out page all the boilerplate about how they handle the ebooks you don't either download or opt for store credit on, thus solving the unclaimed property legal problem.] Once someone send you an e-book, you'd get a message from Amazon saying you had received a kindle ebook as a gift. There would be a link letting you go to some part of Manage Your Kindle or Manage Your Account or the Media Library or somewhere. That link would give you some choices. It might say, hey, we know you already own this as an ebook, so you got a credit in the kindle store for this amount. Or, it might say, somebody sent you this ebook. Would you like to accept it, or would you prefer to get a credit in the kindle store for this amount. If you accepted it, then you'd get to decide which kindle to have it sent to. Press this button to send a thank you message to the person who sent it to you might be an option, too.
Amazon might put up a little message on your home page when you log in, telling you you have gift ebooks in the wherever it is center, if you haven't followed up based on the email yet.
The worst part is trying to explain to people what to do to send a kindle book as an ebook if they are not logged in and/or don't have 1-click settings set up. They could supply screens: basically put a button on every kindle ebook detail page saying buy-this-as-a-gift, and then walk you through identifying the recipient (since there would be no point in making someone supply payment and all if they can't give a gift to the person they want to give it to), then collecting identifying information and payment information from the sender. This is an absolute nightmare, however. If the sender doesn't have an Amazon account and/or doesn't have payment information set up, odds are that is because they have some sort of issue with the process. They might not like e-anything. They might not like turning over credit cards online. Whatever. If they are really inexperienced and start mucking about with the back button and what-all, it is just going to be an unpleasant experience all around. It is entirely possible, however, that Amazon doesn't want to roll out a gift giving process that doesn't have a solution for this particular set of issues (giver doesn't currently have an Amazon account and wants to _not_ have an Amazon account, but wants to send someone who owns a kindle an ebook this winter gift giving season). The small number of people who won't have an account with Amazon and do want to send a kindle ebook as a gift is going to involve some noisy ones who complain online loudly and in (possibly inaccurate) detail about how it didn't work for them.
The above would be the long form of what I previously referred to as nasty, hairy problems with coding up a way to let people give kindle ebooks as gifts.
One might reasonably ask, but how would it work if you were shopping on your kindle? And the answer to that will be, I doubt it will work in v.1. If, indeed, it ever becomes possible to buy a friend an ebook from your own kindle reader. Just thinking about it makes me nervous.
ETA: The interaction with the wish list should work _beautifully_.
ETAYA: It might make sense to do a more fine-grained setting on who can send me ebooks: anyone can send me vs. anyone in my address list can send me vs. no one can send me. Probably not a v.1 feature.