Amazon’s A9 Pushes ‘Open Search’ Approach

Throwing a twist into the raging search wars, Amazon’s A9.com search site is pushing an open format that allows vertical search results to be widely syndicated in a manner similar to a popular approach for cross-pollinating blogs and news feeds.

A9.com launched OpenSearch, which it bills as “a collection of technologies, all built on top of popular open standards, to allow content providers to publish their search results in a format suitable for syndication.”

The idea is that any site that has content and a search box can return results in the OpenSearch format and that any content provider can get results from its own store of data listed on a search aggregator site.

Real Simple Syndication

On A9.com, the technology manifests itself this way: A long and growing list of search columns has been added to the search page. Those columns enable a search to be targeted in various databases, such as the New York Times, NASA, or Google’s image database. After a keyword is searched for, results can be toggled between the columns with a single click.

Outside of A9, the open technology enables a blog publisher or any other content site to integrate the same search buttons onto his or her own site.

The idea is to use the premise and technology of the popular Real Simple Syndication (RSS) that enables blogs and news feeds to be propagated into different Web sites without disrupting code or unknowingly altering the appearance of a site.

“We want OpenSearch to do for search what RSS has done for content,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in announcing the technology.

Early versions of the OpenSearch tools are now available, with A9 promising more to come soon.

‘Pretty Neat’

“In short, if you have a content site, you can syndicate searches of that content through A9,” University of California professor and search blogger John Battelle wrote after seeing a preview of the technology.

Battelle has already integrated several of the search buttons onto his own blog page. He called the technology “a neat idea, one that I think will evolve and shift over time.”

In the model, sites such as A9 and others that use the OpenSearch format become search “aggregators” where numerous vertical search opportunities can be presented together.

“Any site that has content — and a search box — can choose to return results in OpenSearch RSS,” the explanation on A9.com reads. “This includes travel sites, classifieds, encyclopedias. … If you can provide search results for something, it probably can fit into the OpenSearch model. OpenSearch is not a search engine — it is a way for search engines to publish their search results in a standard and accessible format.”

Open Arms

Search Engine Watch editor Danny Sullivan said the technology offers “an alternative” to existing approaches, and because it is based on readily available and non-proprietary technologies, is an idea that can be duplicated by others.

Sullivan said the result is “an open format that will enable search results to be displayed anywhere, anytime.”

Others said the development was a reminder that search engine technology is still likely to evolve rapidly and even change completely, in some cases with smaller players providing the innovation.

“Search is relatively new and novel enough that people probably aren’t wed to any single way of doing it,” Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li told the E-Commerce Times. “That leaves room for innovators to offer completely new approaches that might set the industry on its ear.”

Building Loyalty

In fact, Li said one of the main challenges facing search engines is finding a way to build user loyalty to prevent defection to other established search tools or emerging technologies. Forrester predicts that a wave of “search specialists” will eventually begin to wrest market share away from the search leaders.

The A9 announcement came within a day of Microsoft announcing that it had developed its own paid search results technology that will use demographic information to enable advertisers to tightly target consumers. That product will be aimed at the lucrative paid search market, which Yahoo and Google currently dominate.

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