Alexa Releases Amazon Shopping Tool

Alexa Releases Amazon Shopping Tool

From The Search Engine Report
Dec. 6, 1999

When purchased Alexa earlier this year, many people wondered what use the online retailing giant would make of Alexa's skills and technology. The answer popped up last week, in Alexa's quiet rollout of zBubbles.

"Just as Alexa gives better information for site visitors, so does the shopping companion empower shoppers, which ties in nicely with mission to help people find and buy anything online," said Cynthia Lohr, Alexa's Director of Communications.

When installed, zBubbles appears as a tiny icon in the upper right-hand corner of your browser's page display area. It very much resembles a traffic signal tipped on its side, so that all three lights are horizontal -- hence the icon is known internally as the traffic light.

In the first light is a little Z, and it's the heart of zBubbles. It turns from the usual gray to red to tell you if it has shopping information about a page you are viewing. By clicking on the Z, you can see information about products listed on that particular page.

For instance, if I go to's home page, then click on the Z, it tells me information about the Palm V, one of the products listed on the page. I'm shown places to buy it and related products, as submitted by other zBubbles users. Conveniently for Amazon, I'm also shown its price for the Palm V (hey, I'd save $70! But would I get the free leather case that MicroWarehouse throws in?). Even better, especially for Amazon, is that I can easily add the item to an shopping cart right from within zBubbles.

Clearly, this is a powerful tool for Amazon to extend its shopping presence anywhere its affiliate links don't already reach (yes, there are such places -- think schools, universities or importantly, Amazon competitors). But less cynically, it is also designed to encourage Internet user participation.

For instance, in the MicroWarehouse example, no users have yet entered other places to purchase the Palm V or related products. Now I think that anyone with both a Palm and a Furby must have the program that lets you use the Palm to control your Furby (including the ability to turn the darn thing off). So via zBubbles, using the second traffic light that has a pen image in it, I quickly add my recommendation into a short form.

Now when I click on the Z, I see "Furby Remote Control" as one of the recommended products. Slick -- perhaps other users will benefit from my work! But this change is only related to that particular page -- if I go over to, zBubbles displays only information that visitors to that page have left behind.

zBubbles also gives users another means of accessing its product information -- by placing little Zs in orange circles right on the page you are viewing, next to any words it knows about. For instance, if I go to the Yahoo home page, on top of the "n" in the word "Pokemon" is a Z. Clicking on it brings up zBubbles information.

These Zs look as if they are actually part of the page, as if the page author placed them there. In fact, just for fun, I went into Yahoo's Running Shoes category, then made Adidas related to the word "running shoes." Now Adidas, which wasn't listed in the category, has sort of gotten placement without any approval by Yahoo's editors.

OK, so it's not exactly the same as being listed in Yahoo -- and certainly only those with zBubbles would even see the Z. But as a webmaster, it concerns me that people can be marking up my pages like this, in a way that looks like it's something I've done or approved of. And if I'm concerned, I can imagine some highly competitive retail sites that will freak out when they discover this. Can you imagine Datek littering e*Trade's home page with Zs that tie the two sites together? Guerilla marketers, take note!

For this reason, I suspect that having Zs on the pages themselves, useful though they are, will have to go away. Or alternatively, Alexa may have to offer some type of opt-out for webmasters that don't want their pages littered this way. The alternative will probably be a large number of complaints and possibly even lawsuits. Now there would be mess to sort out in court.

Remember that third light? Clicking on it merely brings up the normal Alexa service -- zBubbles is currently bundled with it, though Lohr said the two applets could be separated, in the future.

Certainly expect zBubbles to begin changing almost immediately -- the program literally came out in beta just last week. At the top of my wish list is the ability to toggle zBubbles off and have it stay off even when I open new windows. Perhaps my Furby remote control might help...


Just follow the links for the Alexa/zBubbles program for IE5. It's not available for IE4 or Netscape users, but the regular Alexa program is.

Alexa Upgrades For Internet Explorer

Never heard of Alexa? It's a great tool -- this review explains more.

Furby Remote Control˜maznliz/marius/furby.shtml

Maybe the best thing I put on my Palm, after Qmate for Quicken.