Search Engine A9 Goes Online

Rhett Pardon
PALO ALTO, Calif. – The search-engine industry just added one more player this week.

Amazon, the mighty e-retail giant, has entered the Internet search business after months of testing A9.com.

A9 is much like traditional search engines, and it uses Google to display links to relevant web pages that contain selected keywords, but it has several useful features, such as displaying a users' history of searches on the beta site so that they can quickly continue prior hunts for data.

It also links to electronic copies of books that contain those keywords. And, of course, those books are available through Amazon.com’s Search Inside the Book via A9 as well.

Some filtering does appear to be taking place on A9. A search of the word "porn'' returned links to articles on anti-porn groups and war against pornography documentaries. A Google search on the same term returned actual porn sites.

A9, wholly owned by Seattle-based Amazon, is based in Palo Alto, Calif., and will operate as a separate company. Its presence there with about 30 employees suggests the unit might be competing more aggressively with Yahoo and Google in the future. Both of those Internet firms have offices in Silicon Valley.

Internet and software firms have watched Google Inc.'s rise with envy and fear, as the young company could end up becoming the primary way users begin their search for information and goods on its vast index of 4 billion web pages. The company's business stems mainly from advertising commissions it earns by directing users to sites where they can purchase products.

Analysts admit that most surfers who shop on the web are treating Google as a starting point because it is perceived by many as a convenient way to find any product on any website. More web shoppers buy products through retailers they found by conducting web searches, rather than by going directly to retailers' sites.

Two months ago, Google ramped up its foray into retail with Froogle, which makes it easier to search for products by product price range or by displaying different characteristics.

The other tech firms have taken notice. Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft Corp. said early this month it is developing improved search technology, and Yahoo acquired Google's primary competitor last year, Overture Services Inc. of Pasadena.

A9, with its brown-on-beige interface, will be marketed to other websites, the company said.