Just six months after establishing a Silicon Valley spinoff to develop asearch product, Amazon.com has launched A9.com, a tool that allows users to scour both the Amazon store and the Web for products and information. Eventually, it will let users search other merchants’ sites as well, according to the company.
The A9 site, with a stripped-down homepage that bears the familiar Amazonswoosh, began operating in beta form Wednesday, powered by Web searchresults from Google.
The site offers several features intended to setit apart from the competition, including the ability for registered usersof Amazon to search the inside text of books listed for sale on Amazon.com andthe ability to customize the search page by adjusting the column width ofvarious search results.
Tools and Tricks
The site also can store search histories in password-protected files andlet users take shortcuts in their search queries by typing the site’s URL along with a search term. For instance, typing “A9.com/Iraq” returns some 4.7 millionWeb search results. Those results are augmented with information about the site they come from, such as how many visitors it gets, which is drawn fromAmazon subsidiary Alexa Internet.
A9 also offers a toolbar similar to those provided by Yahoo and Google. With thistoolbar, users can perform additional customization of search results, includinghighlighting phrases or sections of pages and creating and saving a search”diary.”
A9 is overseen by Udi Manber, a former Yahoo executive who developed Amazon’s search-the-book technology last year.
Amazon and its new Palo Alto, California-based subsidiary could not be reachedfor comment. A9 has not indicated whether or not it is developingits own search technology, which would enable the site to operate independently.
Google spokesperson David Krane told the E-Commerce Times that Amazon remains a “trusted partner,” noting that the two companies forged a wide-ranging agreement more than a year ago.
However, other Internet companies, most recently and notably Yahoo, have morphed from users of Google’s results into competitors for the same eyeballs and advertiser dollars.
“It’s too early to evaluate where Amazon will go with this technology,” Krane said, adding that Google has always operated in a field crowded with competitors of all shapes and sizes.
Selling Points and Pitfalls
One potential stumbling block for Amazon is that the features aimed at making the A9 site appealing to marketers and retailers — for example, the ability to link a user’s search history with his or her purchasing history — are also the most likely ones to draw concern from privacy advocates. With paid search now a booming business, the Holy Grail in the sector appears to be finding a way to better integrate search and shopping.
Forrester analyst Charlene Li told the E-Commerce Times that search innovations are likely to develop at a fast clip as not only existing competitors, but also Microsoft, work to build on the success of search as a revenue generator and convenience tool.
“Amazon is taking a slightly different angle, looking at it more from the merchant’s point of view, and that’s going to result in some new twists,” Li said. “Retailers have such a thirst for Web analytics and information abouttheir shoppers that this is probably going to resonate with them right offthe bat.”
Click To Begin
Moreover, researchers say most online purchases begin with shoppersvisiting a search engine. Last fall, Yahoo unveiled integrated searchand shopping technology, and Google has launched its own Froogle shopping site, which provides comparison-shopping tools.
Stored data usually raises the hackles of privacy advocates, some ofwhom have been critical of the level at which Amazon and some of itssubsidiaries have engaged in the practice.
The company also points out that the site can be used generically,without logging in, to avoid privacy concerns.
No Deadline Set
Amazon did not provide a time frame for the beta test or say when thesearch tool might be made available for licensing. Providing technology andshopping-based services to other retailers has become an increasinglyimportant part of the company’s business.
Meanwhile, Google is facing its own privacy battle over a beta test ofits free Gmail service. Under pressure from privacy groups and at least oneCalifornia state lawmaker, the search leader said this week that it would review its plans for Gmail, which originally called for almost unlimited storage andsearching capabilities for users but also stipulated that users’ e-mail message content would be scanned to provide targeted advertising.