Sunday, September 19, 2004

A9 - A New Spin on Search

Warning: I get a little technical with this post. I'm not sure what's gotten into me today. I believe my geek genes are fighting to come to the surface. has just released a new entry, known as A9, into the suddenly-once-again-hot world of search engines. We care about this because better search engines benefit all of us. They get us the information we need, when we need it, and they don’t require us to surf and reload zillions of pages to get it.

It’s like calling 411 when you’re looking for one specific phone number. The easier the process, the more likely you are to derive value from the service, and as a result the more likely you will be to use said service again. If 411 doesn’t deliver the goods and instead ends of wasting your time, you won’t be back.

Gee, sounds like a pillar of capitalism, doesn’t it?

For that reason, savvy marketers like Amazon are jumping on the bandwagon, trying to figure out how to graft uber-search capabilities onto their existing business models.

Interestingly, A9’s core is the familiar Google search engine. The difference is personalization: A9 allows you to save search results for multiple search streams directly on the site. No need to remember what search terms you used the last time you were online. No need to re-surf to the same sites again to confirm what you already looked up yesterday.

As always, there’s a catch. Privacy advocates are concerned about what happens to the personal info you leave on the A9 site. They’re also concerned about how A9 tracks your search activity. Although Amazon has promised to not sell this information to others, past experience in the Information Age indicates digitally personalized data, wherever it resides, is vulnerable on a number of fronts.

Despite Amazon’s good intentions, the potential is there for the data to be sold, hacked, or otherwise compromised. The big question is how much of a threat – if any – does this potential represent, and should this be a focus of our efforts to ensure our online security? The verdict is still out on that one, as it is with so many other elements of our rapidly-evolving world of technology.

Google experienced a backlash earlier this year when it launched its Google Mail service into beta. Critics said the software agents that scan your e-mail and serve up ads reflective of the content within them represented invasions of privacy. Now, as evidenced in the eWEEK article,'s Search Launch Triggers Second Thoughts, Amazon is experiencing a similar consumer response.

My take on online privacy is rather simple: the horse is already out of the stable, so we may as well stop whining and get used to it. The following article, The Fuss About Gmail and Privacy: Nine Reasons Why It's Bogus, is roughly parallel to my thoughts on this issue. The simple act of logging into our ISP and sending an e-mail leaves traces of our existence that can be easily read by the guy running the daily backups. Unless we sign a lease on the lovely cave next-door to Osama’s place, we’re going to be connected in some way – and in doing so, ghosts of our existence will exist outside the walls of our respective homes.

Until the day that someone absolutely assures us that there is no risk – which is as likely to happen as Osama getting one of my Gmail invitations – we may as well enjoy the groundbreaking functionality improvements offered by services like Gmail and A9.

Search well and prosper.

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