Amazon.coms Search Launch Triggers Second Thoughts

By Matthew Hicks  |  Posted 2004-09-16 Print this article Print
  follows its own course with its user interface and personalization but raises doubts over its usefulness and consumers' privacy. subsidiary may have officially entered the search wars on Wednesday, but its effort so far is drawing lukewarm user reviews and raising privacy concerns over its core personalization features., now out of a beta begun in April, is taking a different approach from major search engines such as Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. It has focused squarely on adding a new user interface and personalization on top of existing search results, rather than on developing its own Web index. The search service brings together Web and image results from Google, movie information from the Internet Movie Database Inc., reference information from GuruNet Corp. and book-text search from CEO Udi Manber declined to say whether the Palo Alto, Calif., company is planning to develop its own index to replace Google. The site also uses sponsored links from Googles AdWords program.
"Our goal is to innovate and invent new things in search," said Manber. "Search is not a solved problem." On the user interface side, displays each set of search results in its own column, which users can view side-by-side by clicking a series of tabs on the right of the interface. More in line with its parent company, though, is heavy on personalization. Users are prompted to log in, using the same log-in as for, and collects and saves users search history. The site also includes a browser toolbar download, which lets users store bookmarks and notations about Web sites. While has a unique design and interesting customization features, it lacks innovation in the core Web search technologies of indexing information and returning relevant results, said Melissa Burgess, director of business development at search-engine marketer Impaqt, in Pittsburgh. "Theres so much to go through, I wonder if the typical searcher will want to utilize this stuff or will want a clean, simple interface as Google has provided over the past three to four years," she said. "I cant imagine that they are going to go head-to-head with Google." John Rhodes, a Web-site usability specialist who runs consulting company Oristus, said that A9.coms interface might be attractive to some power users but that it is not tailored well to average users. Most users lack the screen size to properly view multiple columns of search results, he said. allows up to eight columns to appear at once. "The interface is just too complex for the average users," said Rhodes, in Binghamton, N.Y. "[The service] is not significantly better for users to make the switch." A9.coms biggest shift from other search engines is its extensive use of personalization, one of the emerging trends among search engines. For example, like Amazon.coms suggestion of books based on users past habits, suggests searches and Web sites based on users past searching history. Click here to read more about startup Eureksters search engine personalized through social networking. To privacy advocate Pam Dixon, those personalization features carry with them more risk than reward. Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, advised consumers to avoid those features by blocking Web cookies or use A9.coms alternative search site,, which does not rely on an log-in. Next Page: upfront about tracking.

Matthew Hicks As an online reporter for, Matt Hicks covers the fast-changing developments in Internet technologies. His coverage includes the growing field of Web conferencing software and services. With eight years as a business and technology journalist, Matt has gained insight into the market strategies of IT vendors as well as the needs of enterprise IT managers. He joined Ziff Davis in 1999 as a staff writer for the former Strategies section of eWEEK, where he wrote in-depth features about corporate strategies for e-business and enterprise software. In 2002, he moved to the News department at the magazine as a senior writer specializing in coverage of database software and enterprise networking. Later that year Matt started a yearlong fellowship in Washington, DC, after being awarded an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellowship for Journalist. As a fellow, he spent nine months working on policy issues, including technology policy, in for a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He rejoined Ziff Davis in August 2003 as a reporter dedicated to online coverage for Along with Web conferencing, he follows search engines, Web browsers, speech technology and the Internet domain-naming system.

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