Amazon’s A9

Amazon has launched a test version of its search engine – A9. It combines Google search results and book search results. A third panel can show one’s browsing history. The story broke via John Battelle who wrote about the Amazon-Google partnership:

My gut tells me the public face will be one of partnership: After all, A9 uses Google’ search results and displays at least two paid AdWord listings per result (I’ve requested comment from Google, you can imagine I’m not the only one…). But I have to wonder: What business is Google in, after all? Is it still in the business of just search – as it was back when it was cutting search provisioning deals right and left, with Yahoo (already ended), AOL (arguable imperiled due to Gmail and other trends), Ask, and Amazon? Is it really still in the business of being an OEM to others, a strategy which allowed it to steal those portals’ customers? Or…has it evolved, to a business where it owns a large customer base, one it must now position itself to defend?

It seems to me, Google’s position in Amazon’s A9 implementation is at best a step backwards. If A9 is as good as it seems to be, every customer that uses and/or switches to A9 becomes an A9 search customer, and, more likely than not, a deeper and far more loyal Amazon customer. (The service incorporates a personal search history and many other really neat tweaks, including a wicked good Toolbar.) In essence, Amazon seems to be making a play for Google’s customers. Or it seems that way to me, anyway. Sure, Amazon isn’t in the AdWords business. It’s happy to outsource that to Google and focus on the entire US retail GDP instead…

One could argue that A9 is a pure commerce play, not a search portal. After all, that’s what the folks at Amazon insisted when they founded the company and located it in the heart of Google/YahooLand (ie, Palo Alto). But that argument is disingenuous. First off, take a look at the A9 interface. Where’s the commerce? (Answer, it’s there, but it’s hidden). And second, I’d argue that you can’t really be in the commerce business without having at least a strategy for owning search. The reverse also hold true. It’s two ends toward the middle, and by the way, that middle ground is getting damn crowded – AOL, Yahoo, MSN, eBay, IAC, Amazon, Google…

What makes this particularly noteworthy is that A9 is built quite literally on top of Google. In short, Amazon has taken the best of Google, and made it, to my mind, a lot better. Sound familiar? Yup, it’s what Google did to Yahoo, Yahoo to Netscape…you get the picture.

WSJ writes:

A9, in some respects, appears to be a repackaging of existing search technologies. For traditional Web searching, A9 uses Google to display links to relevant Web pages that contain selected keywords. At the same time, A9 provide links to electronic copies of books that contain those keywords — such as “iPod.” The books A9 links to are available on through Search Inside the Book, a service Amazon first introduced on its own Web site last year to encourage users to browse through and purchase more books. A9 also offers users a search toolbar, much as Google does, that shows up on the menu of their Web browsers to make searching simpler.

Where A9 seems to take a more distinctive approach to searching is with a feature that displays a users’ history of searches on the site so that they can quickly resume prior hunts for information. “What A9 really wants to do is offer a highly personalized and enhanced search experience,” says Alison Diboll, a spokeswoman for A9. elaborates:

A9 is not powered solely by its own search technology but rather by that of Google, Amazon and Alexa, another Amazon subsidiary. Unlike Google, A9 displays search results with expandable columns to the right, which open up book-related listings or a personal history of search queries. It also displays Google-sponsored ad listings. Data stored on its servers can even tell people which sites they’ve visited–and when. (Web surfers must register to see their personalized search history.)

A9’s toolbar lets users search the Web, Amazon, the Internet Movie Database and Google; it also can look up definitions. What’s novel about it is that it can keep a diary of notes about any visited Web pages and then store them for access on any computer.

People also can search directly from a browser address bar by typing, for instance, “ potter.”

The world just got that much more interesting!

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.