Alexa (Make that Amazon) Looks to Change the Game

(Update: Alexa platform is now live) Every so often an idea comes along that has the potential to change the game. When it does, you find yourself saying – "Sheesh, of course that was going to happen. Why didn't I predict it?" Well, I didn't predict this happening, but…

Alexa(Update: Alexa platform is now live)

Every so often an idea comes along that has the potential to change the game. When it does, you find yourself saying – “Sheesh, of course that was going to happen. Why didn’t I predict it?” Well, I didn’t predict this happening, but here it is, happening anyway.

In short, Alexa, an Amazon-owned search company started by Bruce Gilliat and Brewster Kahle (and the spider that fuels the Internet Archive), is going to offer its index up to anyone who wants it. Alexa has about 5 billion documents in its index – about 100 terabytes of data. It’s best known for its toolbar-based traffic and site stats, which are much debated and, regardless, much used across the web.

OK, step back, and think about that. Anyone can use Alexa’s index, to build anything. But wait, there’s more. Much more.

Anyone can also use Alexa’s servers and processing power to mine its index to discover things – perhaps, to outsource the crawl needed to create a vertical search engine, for example. Or maybe to build new kinds of search engines entirely, or …well, whatever creative folks can dream up. And then, anyone can run that new service on Alexa’s (er…Amazon’s) platform, should they wish.

It’s all done via web services. It’s all integrated with Amazon’s fabled web services platform. And there’s no licensing fees. Just “consumption fees” which, at my first glance, seem pretty reasonable. (“Consumption” meaning consuming processor cycles, or storage, or bandwidth).

The fees? One dollar per CPU hour consumed. $1 per gig of storage used. $1 per 50 gigs of data processed. $1 per gig of data uploaded (if you are putting your new service up on their platform).

In other words, Alexa and Amazon are turning the index inside out, and offering it as a web service that anyone can mashup to their hearts content. Entrepreneurs can use Alexa’s crawl, Alexa’s processors, Alexa’s server farm….the whole nine yards.

Does this change the game? Because I was embargoed and could not really talk to anyone about this, I have not had a chance to talk to folks who are smarter than me about this. So my analysis is limited to my imagination. And that itself is limited by the pricing structure – I do not know if using this service will be cheaper for developers and entrepreneurs than rolling their own. But I can only imagine that indeed it is, or Amazon would not be doing this.

So what has been a jealously guarded secret – the contents of the entire index – is now available to anyone who wants it (of course, this assumes Alexa’s index is comparable to the big guys – honestly, I have no idea). The costs are modest – a few thousand bucks to process the entire web, Gilliat told me. How might that change the game? You guys are smarter than me – what do you think?

I am quite sure this means that Yahoo and Google will have to stare hard at their own (somewhat limited) search services and APIs, and think what they might do to compete, that much is certain. And if this starts to gain traction, all of a sudden, Amazon is a major search player, right next to Yahoo, Google, MSN, and IAC. A9+Alexa+web services= hmmmm….

Again, what do you think? Will this be like A9, a groundbreaking development that fails to get traction with a wider audience? Or might this just start something?

Wired News (not up yet) and the WSJ (free link) were also briefed on this news.

Author: John Battelle

A founder of NewCo (current CEO), sovrn (Chair), Federated Media, Web 2 Summit, The Industry Standard, Wired. Author, investor, board member (Acxiom, Sovrn, NewCo), bike rider, yoga practitioner.

71 thoughts on “Alexa (Make that Amazon) Looks to Change the Game”

  1. The open question is very much what can be done with such data. And not just what can be done, as there are several obvious ideas. But just like Google’s maps api, the question is: what can be done that is commercially valuable?

    That’s much harder to figure out.

  2. “Amazon really gets web services – last month I wrote a post called Don’t Underestimate Amazon, in which I said: “companies like Amazon are quietly changing the world – and getting away with it”. Of course, they’re not getting away with it anymore – the release of Mechanical Turk and the opening of the Alexa API have made people realize that Amazon really is an innovator.”

  3. Any sign of what applications have actually been released? They seem to have closed the signups, but not announced a list of participating developers. I couldn’t find any apps other than the photo search demo (I, of course, used Google to look), but somebody might know more than I do.

  4. I base my opinion on the history of web and statistics. I haven’t seen much changes in the web search industry so far and I do not think that it’ll happen in the future without Google’s partisipation.

  5. I’ve more or less been doing nothing worth mentioning, but eh. My life’s been really bland today. I don’t care. I’ve just been letting everything happen without me these days. That’s how it is.

  6. Are you looking for the next big thing for business on the Internet? Well, we have found it. And here it is. It is no longer e-business as usual. Here is the NEW way (courtesy of AMAZON.COM)!

  7. The open question is very much what can be done with such data. And not just what can be done, as there are several obvious ideas. But just like Google’s maps api, the question is: what can be done that is commercially valuable?

    That’s much harder to figure out.

  8. I haven’t been up to anything today. I don’t care. I’ve just been staying at home not getting anything done. Basically not much happening right now. Maybe tomorrow. I guess it doesn’t bother me.

  9. AN OPEN LETTER TO ANYONE IN THE PEACE OFFICER FIELD!!

    I FEEL VERY STRONGLY ABOUT THIS ISSUE BECAUSE I KNOW OF A PEACE OFFICER LISTED ON ONE OF THOSE MEMORIAL PAGES TO THOSE BRAVE FALLEN OFFICERS!!!

    TO:
    Hon. Stephen Harper
    Office of the Prime Minister
    80 Wellington Street
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    K1A 0A2

    Twenty-seven Canadian peace officers were praised today by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, for their long and exemplary service to Canada.

    TO:
    Congressman David Dreier
    233 Cannon HOB
    Washington, DC, U.S.A. 20515

    That is why I introduced H.R. 3900, the Justice for Peace Officers Act, with the strong support of Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, to make it a federal crime to murder a peace officer — whether federal, state or local — and flee the country, providing concurrent jurisdiction for the federal government to prosecute the suspect.

    Dear Sirs

    I see you are doing legislation on behalf of federal peace officers or commemorating their service.

    As such, can you believe that Malaspina University College in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada says a letter received with a closing salutation of “former federal peace officer” is threatening??

    That is what Dr. Patrick Ross, Vice-President of Student Services, said in a recent meeting??

    This Dr. Patrick was referring to a letter received from a person who was a federal peace officer and since retirement he has closed his letters with “former federal peace officer” after his signature and name??

    I know I had trouble trying to get a simple class outline out of one of their History Professors, Professor Cheryl Warsh, who refused to send me a course outline for an interested student from America??

    What was so secretive about a course outline??

    In closing, have you ever heard anything so disgusting as a simple closing salutation of “former federal peace officer” being threatening as indicated by Dr. Patrick Ross from Malaspina University College !!

    Tell that to all those federal peace officers listed on the numerous memorial pages to those fallen officers!!

    I think people should tell this Dr. Patrick Ross exactly what they think of his statement!!

    Sincerely,

    Brenda Anne Bates

    HOPEFULLY SOMEONE WILL TELL DR. PARTICK ROSS WHAT THEY THINK OF HIS COMMENT THAT A CLOSING SALUTATION OF “FORMER FEDERAL PEACE OFFICER” IS THREATENING ON A LETTER!!

    HOPEFULLY, YOU WILL AGREE WITH ME THAT ROSS IS AN IDIOT TO MAKE SUCH A STATEMENT!!!

    PATRICK ROSS SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF HIMSELF!!!

  10. The IBM WebFountain project crawled the whole web and allowed IBM clients to run processes against it to mine data. The catch there was that you had to have IBM write the program — you just provided a question that you wanted answered.

  11. Who knows what new innovations will come from the ether? Or how many info-entrepreneurs dreams suddenly have become possible for an investment of a few thousand dollars? But come they will, and with startling speed.

  12. The open question is very much what can be done with such data. And not just what can be done, as there are several obvious ideas. But just like Google’s maps api, the question is: what can be done that is commercially valuable?

    That’s much harder to figure out.

  13. Dhoondho has been providing a custom API for those who wanted their own search engines……Alexa came faar afterwards….

    Dhoondho’s result sets are also quite good…and if you look at soem of the US based search engine’s results…i can say that they use dhoondho’s backend for sure

    You can check out the API’s here – http://www.dhoondho.com

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