Internet retailer Amazon.com officially moved into the search engine market with the unveiling late Tuesday of its Internet search engine, A9.com.
Run though Amazon's independent subsidiary A9.com Inc., the search engine seeks to take on major market players Google, Yahoo, Microsoft's MSN and Ask Jeeves with a product that provides a more personalized 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 and gave the subsidiary its own office in Palo Alto, California, to research and build search technologies. The official version of the A9 engine builds on the beta version of the search engine released in April, and uses Google's database and algorithms coupled with its own search features. The search engine also provides reference results from online reference library GuruNet and movies results from the Internet Movie Database.
A9 search results are organized 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," for 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 Web site, from the Amazon.com Web site or through its toolbar.
A9.com is reliant on the technology of its main competitor, the dominate search engine Google, which claims to perform over 250 million daily searches. Along with using Google search technology, A9 also displays the syndicated Google Adwords advertisements, with the two companies sharing revenue from the advertisements.
It is an arrangement similar to the one Google has with America Online and that it used to have with Yahoo until earlier this year when Yahoo severed the relationship, according to SearchEngineWatch.com Editor Danny Sullivan. "Google powers lots of people it is also directly competing against. Google knows it can't 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.com's Web site 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 somewhat 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 they are competing with Google. But there is a potential there and they do 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 officer. Before joining Amazon.com, 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 Search Inside the Book feature is also included in the A9 search engine.
Sullivan said that the development of new search technologies could be a means unto itself for A9.com. "It may be that they will come up with some patents and they could make some money that way through the licensing or the selling of that technology," he said.
Representatives from Amazon.com, A9.com and Google could not immediately be reached for comment.