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Amazon's a9 Launches

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The press is buzzing today with news of the launch of Amazon's a9 search product. Battelle offers an overview. You'll also find stories in the NY Times, News.com, and the SF Chronicle.

a9 launched as a beta last April 2004.

Some Comments
+ I'm not "blown away" by a9 (at this point). However, this doesn't mean that some of the features a9 offers might not be useful for some of you.

+ To harness a9's full power you'll still need to register (you're Amazon.com login will work). Of course, some a9 options do not require a login.

+ a9 is still using Google as it's underlying database. IMHO, the more voices the better and I would love to see a9 create their own web database and ranking algorithm. This is another way they could differentiate themselves from Google and other players.

+ Today's launch uses new default color theme from what we saw with beta release. It's much easier on the eyes. You can also change the color theme (several options are available including the orginal color theme) and font size using the preferences page. This is also where Google's SafeSearch filter is located.

+ The basic interface is sleek and easy to use. Most of a9's features can be activated by simply clicking on one or more of the options listed on the right side of the page. Doing this opens a new "column" that can easily be resized.

+ a9 Web Results contain one or more ads sponsored listings. They also contain a direct link to the Alexa database (an Amazon.com company) to learn more about the page.

+ To run your search on another database a9 offers access to simply click one of the buttons on the right side of the page and a box containing these results will open. You can open, close, or resize these columns at any time.

+ Other databases now available from a9:
++ Reference (dictionary, thesaurus, and other tools) via Gurunet. Full access to Gurunet requires a subscription.
++ Movie info (via IMDB.com, another Amazon.com company)
++ Images (via Google Images)

+ Other options allow you to view your search history (all of your queries are stored on the a9.com server), remotely store bookmarks and view your diary entries. The diary is where you can add notes about any web page. To make diary entries you must use the a9 Toolbar.

+ At the present time the a9 Toolbar is only available for IE (using Windows). I'm surprised that for the launch other versions (Mozilla, Safari) are not available since two key features require it.

+ Finally, another option (still in beta) and only triggered from the a9 homepage is called Discover. Here you'll find:
++ Related Websites (based on what you've already looked at, updated at least twice a day)
++ "Web categories are based on your recently visited sites. Each category entry links to detailed information at Alexa."
++ Frequently Visited Sites
"Links to your most frequently visited sites (listed by domain). The number of recent visits is displayed in parenthesis."
++ Movers and Shakers [what's this?]
"Movers and shakers are those sites that have had the largest rise in average traffic the past week compared to previous weeks. This data is provided by Alexa."

You can learn more about these and other features here.

Bottom Lines
I think you'll either love a9 (this is the greatest!) or find it not all that impressive (what's the big deal?). a9 has taken ideas available from disparate services (remote bookmark storage, being able to add and store notes about pages, see results from various databases) and has placed them within easy reach of the web searcher as they search. That said, MyYahoo! has offered some of these services for several years. However, utilizing them while you search is much easier with a9.

An idea. How about a feature that allowed the searcher to add any specialized database (vertical) to their personalized page? It would be also be exciting for a9 to work with libraries and create customized versions that would allow the researcher to access and search databases that the library licenses.

I also think a9 offering some type of dynamic clustering (Vivisimo like) of all results would be very useful.

We will be watching a9 very closely for new features.

Btw, Udi Manber, a9's creator, spoke at the University of Washington last November. You can watch an archived version of his lecture here. It's titled, "The World's Information at Everyone's Fingertips."


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