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8/16/2005
01:31 PM
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Amazon's A9.com Mixes Maps And Images

Trying to play serious catch-up with name players in the online search market, Amazon.com's search subsidiary today unwrapped an online map service with a strong focus on images.

A9.com Inc., Amazon.com's search subsidiary, wants to show you where you're going while you're figuring out how to get there. The company today introduced an online map service that, for major urban communities, includes street-level photographs of the mapped area. "The main thing you get that separates us from other map services is the images," explains A9.com CEO Udi Manber. "Images are very strong search tools."

A9.com's image database includes some 35 million images that cover more than 22 cities. The company introduced its Block View technology in January as part of its online Yellow Pages, which linked storefront photographs with location-based searches.

The company has been acquiring images for the past eight months by sending drivers to traverse the streets of major cities in vehicles equipped with GPS devices, cameras, and laptops loaded with the company's proprietary software. Manber says he recently took to the streets of Tucson, Ariz., to capture images there.

Since its debut in April 2004, A9.com has faced an uphill battle against established search engines. Manber says the site's traffic is growing, but he declines to discuss specific numbers. Using the Site Info links that A9.com returns on its results pages, A9.com shows a traffic rank of 1,559 at the time of this article. The traffic data listed comes from Alexa.com. The leading search sites are Yahoo, MSN, and Goggle, ranking 1, 2, and 3, respectively. AskJeeves.com ranks 119.

A9.com is counting on unique features like its marriage of maps and images, Site Info links, and personalization tools to raise its profile. Says Manber, "We're looking at all kinds of innovations that will make search better."

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