Amazon takes on the search engine big boys

Amazon.com has unveiled its own internet search engine, A9 run through an independent subsidiary compaby, A9.com.

Amazon.com has unveiled its own internet search engine, A9 run through an independent subsidiary compaby, A9.com.

The search engine seeks to take on Google, Yahoo, MSN and Ask Jeeves with a product that provides a more personalised search experience. For example, it allows users to create a history of their web searches and manage the information they find.

Amazon.com created A9.com in October 2003 to research and build search technologies. The official version of the A9 engine builds on the beta version released in April, and uses Google's database and algorithms coupled with its own search features. It also provides reference results from online reference library GuruNet and movies results from the Internet Movie Database.

A9 search results are organised in columns that expand from left to right to reveal web pages, images and reference material. Other features include bookmarking capabilities, a toolbar for browsing search results and what A9 calls its "diary", allowing users to record, save and reference notes about any web page.

Another feature, which is currently in the beta stage, also recommends sites based on users' past preferences.

The A9 search engine can be accessed from its own website, from the Amazon.com site or through its toolbar.

A9.com is reliant on the technology of its main competitor, Google, which claims to perform more than 250 million searches a day. Along with using Google search technology, A9 also displays the syndicated Google Adwords advertisements, with the companies sharing revenue.

It is an arrangement similar to the one Google has with AOL and that it used to have with Yahoo, according to SearchEngineWatch.com's editor Danny Sullivan.

"Google powers lots of people it is also directly competing against. Google knows it cannot be everywhere, and by allowing other places to carry its paid and unpaid listings, Google is making money," he said.

The A9 search engine dialogue box on Amazon's website could prove useful to the shopping portal, as users often begin online shopping sprees by running a query through a search engine. But apart from supplementing its shopping site, Sullivan said it remains unclear what Amazon.com hopes to achieve by entering the already crowded search engine market.

"Amazon.com has in the past downplayed the idea that it is competing with Google. But there is a potential there and it does have a stable of great talent developing the technologies," Sullivan said.

"Amazon.com sees A9.com as a worthwhile proposition and it really is like a little sandbox for them."

Udi Manber, who began at Amazon.com as a vice-president and its chief algorithms officer, serves as A9.com's chief executive. Before joining Amazon Manber was the chief scientist at Yahoo.

Manber was also key in developing Amazon's "Search Inside the Book" results, a full-text archive of over 100,000 books Amazon digitally scanned. The feature is also included in the A9 search engine.

Sullivan said, "It may be that [Amazon.com] will come up with some patents and it could make some money that way through the licensing or the selling of that technology," he said.

Laura Rohde writes for IDG News Service

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