[Paleopsych] NYT: Amazon to Take Searches on Web to a New Depth
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Wed Sep 15 14:39:07 UTC 2004
Amazon to Take Searches on Web to a New Depth
NYT September 15, 2004
By JOHN MARKOFF
PALO ALTO, Calif., Sept. 14 - Amazon.com, the e-commerce
giant, plans to take aim at the Internet search king Google
with an advanced technology that the company says will take
searches beyond mere retrieval of Web pages to let users
more fully manage the information they find.
A9.com, a start-up owned by Amazon, said in a briefing here
on Tuesday that it planned to make the new version of its
search service, named A9.com, available Tuesday evening.
The service will offer users the ability to store and edit
bookmarks on an A9.com central server computer, keep track
of each link clicked on previous visits to a Web page, and
even make personal "diary" notes on those pages for viewing
on subsequent visits.
"In a sense, this is a search engine with memory," said Udi
Manber, a computer scientist who was a pioneer in online
information retrieval and worked at Yahoo before moving to
Amazon two years ago.
Mr. Manber created the original A9 search service, which is
based in part on search results from Google. He also led
the development of Amazon's "search inside the book"
project, which lets visitors to the Amazon.com and A9.com
Web sites search the complete contents of more than 100,000
books the company has digitally scanned.
Amazon's entry into the search engine wars will certainly
raise the stakes in an already heated battle for control of
what is believed to be the high ground in Internet commerce
Google, which had a widely watched public stock offering
last month, is still the dominant provider of search
results with approximately 250 million daily searches. But
Yahoo and Microsoft have become direct competitors, and a
number of start-up companies are busy developing search
Google executives did not return calls asking for comment.
Amazon is also offering a dialog box that will enable
customers on the Amazon.com shopping site to use A9 service
to perform Web searches. Company executives say they have
no immediate plans to compete head-on with Google and the
other search providers. But analysts say the company is
aware that search engines are often the starting point for
online shopping and cannot help but see broader business
opportunities for expanding more fully into online
"They've downplayed the idea that they're going into
search," said Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine
Watch, an industry Web site. "They say, 'we're not
competing.' But at the same time you have to wonder why
they're doing it, and it's likely they're doing it because
they see some potential in search."
Amazon quietly established A9 last year as a subsidiary in
a large office building here. The start-up has been
offering a search demonstration page, which has so far been
limited to the ability to record a history of Web searches.
The new service goes much further, adding the ability to
organize and retrieve past searches. The idea is to make
searching more useful by making it easier to remember where
a Web browser has gone before.
"The ability to search through your own history of personal
Web searches is insanely powerful," said John Battelle, a
writer and consultant who is the organizer of the Web 2.0
conference to be in San Francisco next month. "This is a
big deal,'' Mr. Battelle said. "But the question is will
people get the habit of using it?"
The new A9 search page permits users to search the Web and
simultaneously retrieve related information from Google's
search results and its image search service, reference
material from the GuruNet service and additional
information from the Internet Movie Database.
A9 executives said that the new version of the service was
simply a first release and that the company had extensive
plans for adding new capabilities.
"This is just version 1.0," said Mr. Manber. "There is a
lot more to come."
But Mr. Manber, who began working on information retrieval
in the early 1990's as a faculty member at the University
of Arizona, was reticent to discuss whether A9 would become
a direct competitor to Google.
A9 is currently using Google search results and displaying
the syndicated Google Adwords advertisements. The two
companies share revenue from the advertisements. Amazon
also has its own independent technology for indexing the
Web, as a result of its purchase in 1999 of Alexa, a search
company founded by the information retrieval specialist
Brewster Kahle. The new version of A9 offers some Web
traffic information derived from Alexa, but not search
Initially, A9 will focus on managing information like
bookmarks and search history, Mr. Manber said. "It's not
just about search," he said. "It's about managing your
The A9 service will include a Web browser tool bar that has
several innovative features, like the ability to create
instant lists from individual Web pages and then use the
lists to move among those pages.
Moreover, it will offer a home page giving users the
ability to edit and move Web links easily for later
The A9 site will also offer a "discovery" feature that
gives Internet browsers suggestions on Web sites that they
may find interesting, based on their searches - a feature
similar to the product recommendation features offered on
Mr. Manber said that A9 had no current plans to include
paid ads in search research or to give a preference to
products sold on Amazon. But he also said that he could not
comment on future plans, except to say that A9 did have
plans for new search technologies that would generate
He stressed that the evolution of Internet search
capabilities was still in its earliest stages. "We're in
the Wright brothers phase of search technology," he said.
A9 executives said they were acutely aware of potential
privacy concerns raised by the personalized nature of the
service and said they were doing a variety of things to
address the issue.
There will be a version of the A9 service that will offer
anonymous searches, for example, Mr. Manber said. Moreover,
it will be possible to turn off the history feature, remove
information from an individual history list and even
entirely clear the history results that are stored on the
A9 server, he said.
"The new thing here is not that this information is being
collected," he said, but rather that A9 is actually letting
Web users have access to their browsing histories for their
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