A9 Yellow Pages and AOL Search

John Battelle wrote recently about Amazon’s local search which tries to blend search and ecommerce. This post is from Business 2.0:

[A9 CEO Udi] Manber & Co. (urged on by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who Manber says was “very involved”) strapped GPS-enabled digital videocamera-cum-terabyte server rigs to the top of a bunch of SUVs, and drove them around the commercial districts of major U.S. metropolitan areas, recording what became composite still pictures of entire cities, one address at a time. Tens of thousands of miles later, they had more than 20 million images of over 14 million businesses in 10 cities, and they aren’t done yet. A9 then created a local search application it calls Block View. It’s pretty darn cool, incorporating a lot of Javascript and other tricks to let you “walk” up and down the block. (You can’t turn a corner yet, but you can look at the other side of the street.) A9 then integrated Block View with Yellow Pages listings (from Axiom) and voil — local search with a visual cue. You have a picture of any business you’re looking for. “It lets you see the Yellow Pages, as opposed to just reading them,” Manber told me.

As one might expect from Manber, there are a lot of cool features here, including Click to Call, which automatically connects you to the business you are looking at (though you have to give A9 your phone number). Click to Call presages a pay-per-call business model, but for now A9 is not making any money on it.

Ramesh Jain writes on this launch: “This is an interesting approach. I see this as beginning of bringing in experiential information along with abstract text information in search results presentation environment. Compare this to Google’s recently announced video search in which results for video search are presented only in text form…This may have interesting uses for people who will search on phones. An interesting question is will it be useful to use your phone to take a picture of a shop and try to search for similar shops in some other area? Effectively if there are all these pictures and their locations stored in the databases, how can one use the camera-phone to do something useful?”

An earlier post by John discussed AOL’s plans:

AOL is adding a lot to its search play. First they have a new and much improved interface. Probably most impressive, at least in concept (I have not played with it) is the “SmartBox” feature which is sort of like Yahoo’s “Also Try” or Google’s search suggestion tool, but in real time as you type a query. Cool idea.

They’re adding clustering, via a deal with Vivisimo. They’re adding pay-per-call, via a deal with Ingenio (I’d love to write more about this, but I’m beat, it’s late, maybe later in the week!). They’re adding those smart boxes I was talking about. They’re adding search history – but only your last 50 searches. I think that’s lame, but Campbell told me the average AOL user searches just 20 times a month – same as your typical web surfer. They plan to watch that and possibly add more. And they’re planning on adding robust local search that integrates some of their properties – MapQuest, Moviefone, Yellow Pages, City Guides, etc.

And, of course, they will be adding desktop search, through a deal with Copernic, which is, I hear, a great desktop search tool.

Soon, Campbell told me, they plan to add localized indexing, so you can search just the part of the web that is in your region. That will be through a partnership with FAST.

And, oh yeah, they will be integrating vertical search, travel, shopping, etc. Oh, and they have added the ability for “AOL partner advertisers” to buy their own trademarks as ad terms, boxing out others. Hmmm, that smells a bit opportunistic given all the legal stuff swirling around trademarks, but hey, gotta make a buck.

An additional point made by Ramesh Jain: “Finally digital convergence is arriving. Information will be the focus rather than medium. All search engines and similar sources will slowly focus on the message or information rather than the medium used to communicate the information. And this definitely has significant implications.”

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.