Amazon.com is trying to out-Google the king of Internet search with a new site that puts a fancy face on Google's plain-Jane search results.
The free A9.com site, created by an Amazon subsidiary, went live on Tuesday (www.a9.com). It lets people store and search their personal Web browsing and search histories, save and edit bookmarks online for access from any computer, jot notes about sites in a personal diary and get recommendations of sites A9 thinks they might enjoy, based on their surfing habits.
"It becomes an extension of your memory," said A9 chief executive Udi Manber. "We are storing a lot of information for you and giving you access to it."
What's novel about A9, which first launched with fewer features in April, isn't the search results, which Google provides under a licensing agreement. It's the personalized extras and the unusual way results are displayed in columns that users can rearrange and redesign to their liking.
A9 may appeal the most to Webaholics who visit a ton of sites and do exhaustive research online. In addition to providing an easy way to manage bookmarks, A9 lets people run a single query and see matching information from multiple sources, including a dictionary and encyclopedia from GuruNet, Amazon's "search the book" database of full-text book pages and Web images from Google.
A9 requires users to download a toolbar (which, in turn, requires the Windows version of Microsoft's Internet Explorer) to store and manage their Web surfing and searching history. The service lets people erase their histories at any time -- or turn off the personalization entirely and use a generic version that stores no personal data. A9 says it logs people's information only to give them access, and it will not share the data with outside parties except its parent, Amazon.com.
"We will be extremely sensitive to privacy issues," Manber said.
One new feature enables users to highlight a group of links on any Web page and store them in a pull-down menu accessible from the toolbar. That can be useful if you want to surf a list of links -- say, a set of search results -- without having to return to the page containing the links.
Like Google and most Web search engines, A9 generates its revenue through ads that match user queries. Google provides all the ads, at least for now, and the two firms share ad revenue. Manber declined to answer questions about A9's future business plans, such as whether it will develop its own advertising or search results.
"Our goal right now is to provide the best product we can," he said. "We see search as a very big problem and we want to be in a position to innovate."
Google Thinks Locally
Google added a few flourishes of its own last week to its local search service, which lets people enter search terms such as "dentists" or "vegetarian pizza," along with a Zip code or city name, to look up nearby businesses and Web pages.
The search site now automatically plots these merchants on a map and allows people to zoom around inside that diagram without having to reload the Web page -- something dial-up Internet users may appreciate.
Google Local first launched in trial form in March. The version released last week also indexes more Web pages, including personal home pages, blogs, and review and rating sites.
E-mail Leslie Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org.