What’s Wrong With Amazon A9 Search Engine
In recent events which may become the beginning of the fall of A9 or the commencement of its rebirth, Udi Manber has left Amazon’s search company for greener pastures at Google. John Battelle had the scoop yesterday and says that Udi is one of the ‘leading lights in the search world’ and one of the top brains in search.
A9 has been getting a lot of flack around the search world lately as being Amazon’s version of the little engine that never could. There was a lot of news around the A9 launch and they were one of the first ‘almost’ top flight search engines to venture into mass personalization and are also innovators in local search and pay per call advertising.
A9 however seems to have the Amazon spin-off curse of side projects by the mega ecommerce entity which launch to a hail of fanfare, only to be put on the backburner or pushed to the side later down the line, never accomplishing the task of gathering public interest.
One problem I’ve had as an outsider with Amazon’s search efforts is that they have a strong group of players under their belt, and have for a long time.
* Alexa : The most popular web site traffic measurement and recommended linking tool was acquired by Amazon years ago and more or less laid to rest until the blog and site publishing explosion brought back demand for the service in 2004. Alexa
* Amazon Web Services : One of the most complex and customizeable affiliate programs on the Internet.
* Amazon Book Search : The ability to search book content and preview books before purchasing them.
* A9 Local BlockView : A9.com Yellow Pages and its “BlockView” technology lets users virtually walk streets and see businesses from street-level (via photos taken from trucks). Users can also upload their favorite photos from outside and inside of businesses which is fabulous for bars & restaurants.
* A9 Local : User reviews, business profiles, photos, and the ability to call the business via the web all rolled into one is a local search and social tool which is only rivaled in user experience by Yahoo Local.
* Amazon.com’s extensive book, music, CD, DVD, downloads and just about anything else you want to buy online store.
* Possibly an Amazon contextual advertising network which Amazon is hoping will replace its dependency on Google AdWords/AdSense to act as a middleman between advertisers and the Amazon Network.
Not to mention:
* Answers.com looks up reference databases.
* Wikipedia for encyclopedia entries.
* Zoominfo for people summaries.
* IceRocket blog search.
* The Internet Movie Database offers movie searching.
With this list of services; if you put Greg Sterling, Aaron Wall, Nick Wilson, myself and a handful of others in charge of this mammoth engine and its techies we could probably pump out one hell of a search offering in 6 months.
Along with Google powered web and image search, this roundup of Amazon A9 services is downright amazing. Amazon however, has not leaped the hurdle to put them in real competition with Google, Yahoo, Ask and MSN.
My view has always been that Amazon’s first mistake is the A9 name. It’s meaningless and not a strong or memorable brand. If Amazon did have to launch their search engine as a separate entity than their Amazon.com homepage, then they should have morphed Alexa.com into their search engine.
Alexa is an old school Internet name brand, easy to remember & pronounce, and its toolbar must be installed on millions of computers. Ironically, it seems that ever since Amazon started pooring money into A9, Alexa has gotten even more popular (atleast among the search community) with an Open Web Search Platform, Alexa Web Information Service (AWIS), Alexadex and other services.
Ever since 1996, Alexa has been monitoring site traffic, delivering info on sites and businesses to users, building databases of relevant links to sites, safekeeping user reviews, and has been both IE and Mozilla friendly for almost 10 years. Heck, Alexa even built the Wayback Machine for the Internet Archive. How much more respected can a brand get among search?
Perhaps Alexa was not as cunning as a Web 2.0 name for the Amazon search project, or maybe there were worries on the Amazon team about marketing a mass search engine associated with an old school toolbar. Fact of the matter is that the average Internet user does not care about Web 2.0 and Yahoo & Google have had no problems overcoming controversy in site monitoring or tracking of user behavior.
Another problem experienced with A9 is that its Local offering is hosted more or less on Amazon.com, which more or less squashes the branding power of A9’s most useful search tool and service.
With the departure of Udi also comes the announcement that Dr. David Tennenhouse is A9’s new CEO. Tennenhouse comes from Intel where he was Vice President of the Corporate Technology Group and Director of Research. This transition is a chance for Amazon to start from a clean slate with the A9 experiment and whatever their plans may be to do with their enhanced version of Google. Perhaps building their own search engine index and algorithm would be a good first start.