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4/14/2004
09:24 PM
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Amazon's A9 Joins Crowded Search Field

Amazon is entering the search business through its A9 subsidiary in Silicon Valley.

Taking a page from Microsoft's embrace-and-extend playbook, Amazon.com is entering the search business. Through its A9 subsidiary in Silicon Valley, the Seattle-based E-retailer on Wednesday launched its own search site, A9.com.

Mostly, it's Google under the hood--A9 licenses Web-search results from Google. But there's some difference. The site also searches the text of Amazon's vast store of books. This service also is available through Amazon, but those searches must be conducted on a specific book, rather than every book in Amazon's database. Beyond the Web and book-content results, the site maintains a list of a user's search history.

Also like Google, and a number of other companies trying to reclaim a sliver of the desktop real estate dominated by Microsoft, A9 offers a browser toolbar. It blocks pop-up ads and offers an always-accessible search field, just like the Google toolbar. There are several differences. One is that it allows the annotation of Web pages. This "Diary" is available through any computer with an A9 toolbar, provided the user has logged in using his or her Amazon username and password.

A9 is developing E-commerce search technology for Amazon and other sites, according to company spokesperson Alison Diboll. Asked whether this might put the company in competition with Google, which also offers E-commerce searches through Froogle.com, Diboll responds, "Google is a valued and important partner."

But perhaps there will be peace between Amazon and Google. Perhaps A9's Toolbar will rest comfortably atop the toolbars of Google, Yahoo, and anyone else taking a ride in Microsoft's browser, a group that may soon include AOL.

Laura Ramos, an analyst with technology research firm Forrester, likens Amazon's relationship to Google as that of an equipment manufacturer that uses components of well-known suppliers. It's using the search company's technology to extend its core competency: selling products online.

Recent events, however, suggest a blurring of boundaries among successful online companies. Google is challenging Microsoft and Yahoo by getting into the business of free E-mail. Microsoft and Yahoo are eager to capture more of the search market from Google. Everyone wants a piece of the E-commerce pie. With Amazon entering the picture via A9, figuring out where partnership ends and competition begins looks a bit more complicated.

Time for eBay to start offering search and E-mail?

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