A New Search Engine, All The Old Issues

In case you haven’t heard, Amazon has launched its own search engine, A9 and a toolbar (for now compatible only with IE) which dovetails with your Amazon account.

Supposed advantages over other search engines (here’s A9’s own list):

  • Simultaneously searches Amazon’s book store while searching the web.
  • Amazon book search results, and a history of your previous searches, are easily accessed in neat, adjustable, vertical flaps.
  • Apart from offering the usual toolbar features — blocks popups, web search, highlights word matches, information on sites visited — it also offers a couple of interesting extras, including a history of previous searches, a way to add your reviews of sites visited, a diary where you can store notes on any particular webpage you visit and view when you revisit that webpage.

Disadvantages:

  • These last two elements — review, webpage notes — remind me of long dead web annotation services like uTok, Instant Rendezvous and Third Voice. Do Amazon think that going down this road is really ‘cool’? Am I missing something or wasn’t this where Alexa was before it was bought out by, er, Amazon? Or were these guys just a tad early to the blogging revolution?
  • Toolbar isn’t stable yet. Installation was a bit wobbly on my system
  • I’m not crazy about the colour scheme, but maybe that’s just me.
  • Under the hood the search engine is Google. Why change?

And then there’s the privacy stuff? This is a tough one. The Alexa toolbar, also owned by Amazon, has had a rocky history on this issue, since it, in its own words, ”COLLECTS AND STORES INFORMATION ABOUT THE WEB PAGES YOU VIEW, THE DATA YOU ENTER IN ONLINE FORMS AND SEARCH FIELDS, AND, WITH VERSIONS 5.0 AND HIGHER, THE PRODUCTS YOU PURCHASE ONLINE WHILE USING THE TOOLBAR SERVICE.” (Their upper case, not mine.)  

In a way, if you’re a customer of Amazon it’s a bit late to start worrying about privacy. As Amazon says on its A9 privacy policy page, “You provide information when you enter search terms; download and use our toolbar; communicate with us by phone, e-mail, or otherwise; and employ our other services. As a result of those actions, you might supply us with personally identifiable information or information about things that interest you.” I’m not going to make a call on this. Bottom line: If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your browsing habits with Amazon, you can use their ‘generic’ version of A9.

Time will tell whether A9 nips at Google’s own heels. What’s clear is that with the arrival of Gmail and A9, Google and Amazon hope they will be super portals, where folk go to do everything: buy stuff, check email, search the web, fall in love, marry, and stuff.

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All opinions are my own, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters.

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