Amazon.com is stripping its A9 search engine of the features that won praise from experts, but earned little attention from users.
The company said it’s redesigned the search engine to make it easier and faster for users to find information.
As part of the changes, gone are the glitzy local-search features such as maps, business listings and storefront photos. Amazon.com also discontinued the search engine's browser toolbar.
Also significant is that A9, originally billed as ‘a search engine with a memory’, apparently has become amnesiac, losing its history, bookmarks and diary features.
The history feature gave users a list of sites they had previously visited, while the diary function let them save notes about their web browsing adventures. And the bookmarks feature let users save links to their favourite sites.
Another casualty of the A9 changes is the ‘instant reward’ program, which gave registered users credits on Amazon.com purchases.
The memory features, along with the local search capabilities - in particular the street-level storefront photos - earned A9 consistent praise from industry observers as a trailblazing search engine brimming with innovations.
The man credited with ushering in these snazzy features, Udi Manber, quit as A9 search chief and joined Google in February, a loss that raised eyebrows and prompted questions about Amazon.com's future as a search engine provider.
"A9 continues to innovate in the area of search, which includes operating A9.com and enhancing product search on Amazon.com," an Amazon.com spokesman wrote in an email on Monday. "A9 is shifting its priorities to areas where it can provide the greatest benefit for customers."
New features introduced on Friday include giving users the option to list all the results of a search on one page, as well as a user interface designed to make it easier for users to add specialised search engines to A9 from more than 400 sources.
Despite praise from industry analysts, A9 hasn't managed to gain traction with users. In August, it accounted for just 1 million searches conducted in the US, out of a total of 6.5 billion. This gives it a market share of less than one-tenth of one percent, according to comScore Networks.
The changes to A9 probably signal a new search strategy for Amazon.com rather than a withdrawal from that market, said Matt Booth, an analyst at The Kelsey Group.
It's likely Amazon.com wants to strengthen A9's core web search functionality and focus on increasing traffic to the site before moving on to other types of searches, Booth said.
A9's retreat from local search may seem puzzling at first, but on closer inspection, it may make a lot of sense. Local search is a very difficult and complicated service to offer, Booth said.
‘When you do a redesign, you have to make tough choices, like limiting your scope to improve your core product,’ he said.
It wouldn't be surprising to see A9 return to local search after solidifying its web search traffic, because interest in local search is very high, as are the ad revenue opportunities tied to it, the analyst said.