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Tuesday, October 3, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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A9.com's features scaled back

Seattle Times retail reporter

The search engine with memory has lost its recollection.

Amazon.com has discontinued several distinctive features of its search engine, A9.com, including a search history that recorded all the searches ever made by a user, and mapping technology that captured street-level images of businesses in the largest U.S. cities.

Spokesman Andrew Herdener said A9, Amazon's subsidiary based in Palo Alto, Calif., would continue to operate the A9.com Web site and enhance product search on its online retail site Amazon.com.

Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos touted one of the search engine's more unique features in interviews and at an annual shareholders meeting in May 2005.

A9 had mounted cameras to trucks, and used global positioning system units to capture street-level images of businesses in more than a dozen U.S. cities.

When users searched for a local business, it enabled them to see what the business — and surrounding area — looked like.

Danny Sullivan, editor and chief of SearchEngineWatch.com, said A9's new interface reduces it to a meta-search engine. "They've pared it down to the minimum number of things that they can support," he said. Amazon has never said how much money it spent on developing the site or the size of the subsidiary, which is a private company.

A9 suffered a blow in February when its chief executive Udi Manber went to Google. He was replaced by David Tennenhouse, the former director of research at Intel.

Google remains the omnipresent leader among search engines, commanding more than half of the U.S. market, according to August data for Nielsen//NetRatings.

By comparison, A9.com was ranked 32 with 0.1 percent of the market.

Meanwhile, A9's search activity fell 21 percent in August when compared to the same month a year ago. Google's search activity rose 30 percent during the same period, Nielsen//NetRatings said.

Amazon in April began using Microsoft Windows Live to power its Web and news searches, although it allows users to search more than 400 others sources, including Wikipedia, Nytimes.com, plus Amazon's Internet movie database, IMDb.com, and another feature called "Search Inside the Book."

Windows Live Local recently debuted similar street-side imagery, which A9 users can access through its search engine, although the preview features only Seattle and San Francisco for now.

A9 also discontinued its toolbar, maps, yellow pages, diary and bookmarks.

Amazon entered search at a time when online retailers worried that larger search engines might encroach on their territory, but Amazon remains synonymous with online retail.

"Maybe they've decided they don't need to be in there," said Sullivan, of SearchEngineWatch.com.

Monica Soto Ouchi: 206-515-5632 or msoto@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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