ETech 2005 Trip Report: Vertical Search and A9
The core idea behind this talk was powerful yet simple.
Jeff Bezos started of by talking about vertical search. In certain cases, specialized search engines can provide better results than generic search engines. One example is searching Google for Vioxx and performing the same search on a medical search engine such as PubMed. The former returns results that are mainly about class action lawsuits while the latter returns links to various medical publications about Vioxx. For certain users, the Google results are what they are looking for and for others the PubMed results would be considered more relevant.
Currently at A9.com, they give users the ability to search both generic search engines like Google as well as vertical search engines. The choice of search engines is currently small but they'd like to see users have the choice of building a search homepage that could pull results from thousands of search engines. Users should be able to add any search engine they want to their A9 page and have those results display in A9 alongside Google or Amazon search results. To facilitate this, they now support displaying search results from any search engine that can provide search results as RSS. A number of search engines already do this such as MSN Search and Feedster. There are some extensions they have made to RSS to support providing search results in RSS feeds. From where I was standing some of the extension elements I saw include startIndex, resultsPerPage and totalResults.
Amazon is calling this initiative OpenSearch.
I was totally blown away by this talk when I attended it yesterday. This technology has lots of potential especially since it doesn't seem tied to Amazon in any way so MSN, Yahoo or Google could implement it as well. However there are a number of practical issues to consider. Most search engines make money from ads on their site so creating a mechanism where other sites can repurpose their results would run counter to their business model especially if this was being done by a commercial interest like Amazon.