free html hit counter More on A9 - John Battelle's Search Blog

More on A9

By - April 14, 2004

beta-a9-logo.gifThe blogosphere continues to chew away on A9, and I think it will take some time for the new service to fully reveal its more interesting features. Gary, for example, gives it a less-than-rave response here, and summarizes many of its features in the process.

I wrote about the implications of A9 w/r/t business models in my last post, but I wanted to say a short bit about why I’m so interested in its approach.

To me, the core feature that makes A9 interesting is what Udi Manber calls a “history server” – the technologies behind A9’s search history and personalization features. Having your entire search and click history, and if you use the Toolbar, your entire browsing history as well, available on a server side application opens up all sorts of new approaches to solving search, research, and recall problems. Combining that history with what Amazon already knows about you (no, A9 does not do that…yet) creates even more powerful possibilities. Yes, it brings up massive privacy issues, but then, we’ve seen this movie a few times. Those who don’t want to watch can opt out.

(As an aside, I have to say the idea of a complete, lifetime record of a person’s searches and browsing history – which by the way that person can edit – is an extraordinary concept. It’s taking the idea of the database of intentions to the utmost granular level of history – the individual. What, I wonder, happens to a person’s search history when they die? Do they have a right to own it? Does it get passed down as a keepsake to his or her children?)

What gets me thinking is that for those who commit to A9 as a search solution, new and continuous improvements in search are likely to be hacked up, based on the fact that the personalized history can be analyzed and leveraged. For example, Gary and others have noted that the service does not allow you to keyword search within your searches, and display, for example, just those pages you’ve browsed in the past. I’d wager Giants tickets that will be in the feature set by the end of the year.

A minor example of the power of the history server: when you repeat a search, A9 will show you what links have changed and what links you’ve clicked on before. This might seem like a minor deal, but it’s a pretty effortless feature for A9 to serve up. Imagine what else might be done with the history server. If you can imagine it, you can probably do it – again, I’ll wager that Amazon will figure out a way to make the A9 interface API friendly, so that its platform developers can cook up even greater feats.

On the interface side, I am a fan of the collapsable columns for search history, web results, and books (which you can imagine will be all things sold on Amazon and its affiliates before too long). But I do agree that the color scheme is a bit…dull. It lulls me toward sleep. Or maybe that’s just my lack of sleep talking.

Manber is quite insistent that A9 is a very early piece of work, the result of 30 folks banging away for 90 days, but that it’s quite robust, and will evolve very quickly in the next year. From what I’ve heard about him from others in the field, and what I can see so far, I am sure it will worth watching very closely.

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12 thoughts on “More on A9

  1. Alan Kellogg says:

    Confession time: I missed that part about A9 remembering searches. But, Kartoo did it first.

    (I’m evil, I nitpick.[eg])

  2. quino says:

    The idea of a complete, lifetime record of a person’s searches and browsing history is an *extraordinarily worrying* concept. What about porn-related searches (maybe that’s the reason A9 doesn’t want to show them)? Or searching for a new job? Or checking your friends or acquitances past on the net? Or information on some embarrassing medical condition? Who would like that stored, linked to your profile and e-mail address, only a password away from being publically known? Who would enjoy the task of continually sanitizing your search history?

  3. Manuzhai says:

    Gray text is bad! [1] Especially as the background color is some broken white, makes it hard to read (text is quite small in Firefox, as well).


  4. Seun Osewa says:

    “What about porn-related searches?” A9 allows you to modify your history. Besides, the information in your mailbox is just as sensitive and is also only a password away1

    I think some of the A9 concepts will find their way into google. It only needs to be possible for the user to have control of where the information is stored.

  5. Peter Caputa says:

    i agree with this post wholeheartedly. i think we need to continuously weigh the value of our privacy vs the ability to offer personalized experiences. Obviously, a company like amazon has a lot at stake in doing this the correct way without harming their public perception. They are giving us complete control over it and there is no one forcing us to use it.

    John… What do you think of a Eurekster/A9 merger possibility? A lot of the features that you discussed in this post are already implemented at Eurekster. Plus, Eurekster/SLI has some patented “learning technologies” that help rerank results based on user clicks. Adding Alexa’s/A9’s browsing data, combined with Amazon’s ability to push the technology to user, it could be a pretty beneficial pairing, atleast from an application/adoption perspective.

  6. Vicky says:

    Immediately after logging in I did a single search, then checked my history and found the keywords for an Amazon search for a book I was looking for three months ago. Go figure?

  7. pb says:

    a9 should definitely have a setting such that porn searches are not remembered. That could be a show-stopper.

  8. Mark Harwood says:

    I wonder if A9 will look to create their own index to capitalize on the data they gather.

    At the moment A9’s user profiles are only used to dress up the results of regular Google searches. Search results are still simply selected on the basis of the two words typically entered by the user in the search box.

    A more powerful solution is to use the information they have stored in user profiles as implicit search criteria added to every search. Unfortunately this requires the close integration of user profiles and search index data to be done efficiently and this is not possible while A9 are reliant on Google.

  9. Francisco says:

    Enhanced by Google? What is that supposed to mean?

  10. I gave up my search privacy when I stopped deleting my Google cookie. A9 is hardly the first offender in this area.

  11. Johnny says:

    I don’t really like it. The colors and the ui still need some work – it’s very boring.

    Sometime last year, I read A9 was going to be a shopping search engine. For shopping and prices, I still prefer using shopping sites like, they are more useful.

  12. Justin Hoffman says:

    Hackers like myself deserve what we get. We should get a life, I know.