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Amazon unveils its search engine

A9.com to compete with search sites such as Google

Internet retailer Amazon officially moved into the search engine market this week, unveiling A9.com.

Run though Amazon's independent subsidiary A9.com, 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 personalised search experience.

For example, it allows users to create a history of their web searches and manage the information they find.

Amazon, based in Seattle, 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 cinema results from the Internet Movie Database.

A9 search results are organised 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 website, from the Amazon.com website 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 250m 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 AOL 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 says.

The A9 search engine dialogue box on Amazon.com's website 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 says it remains somewhat unclear what Amazon.com hopes to achieve by entering the already crowded search engine market.

"Amazon 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 says. "Amazon sees A9.com as a worthwhile proposition and it really is like a little sandbox for them."

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