RealTime IT News

Amazon, A9 Give Virtual Search Tour

Internet retail giant Amazon introduced a new feature to an old service this week when it launched A9.com Yellow Pages -- a guide to local businesses complete with photographs.

The new service from the Seattle-based Amazon.com, developed by its wholly owned search subsidiary A9, compiled 20 million photos of businesses in 10 major United States cities over a four month period, and now say they plan on adding more.

Using SUVs loaded with high-tech imaging gear, A9 sent drivers to 10 cities, covering "tens of thousands of miles," to map the streets and capture exterior images of local businesses.

"It took integrated GPS receivers, digital cameras, sophisticated geocoding software and a lot of driving," said Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com founder and CEO, in a statement. "But 20 million curb-side photographs later, A9.com Yellow Pages lets you see where you are going before you get there."

Users can find listings at A9.com or by using the A9 search field on Amazon.com's home page.

The list of returns includes an interactive map that provides business locations. Clicking on a business takes users to a page that provides detailed information of the business. There is also special Click-to-Call feature that allows users to call the business by clicking a button. With the click the technology phones the user and the business at the same time.

The site can also be searched by keyword, product category or business name. Photos of businesses were taken at street level, a feature that allows viewers to take a "virtual walk" up and down the block to see other restaurants, offices and shops.

Other Internet search companies, such as Google , Yahoo and Ask Jeeves , have already launched similar local search services in an effort to increase advertising revenues, but haven't used images to the extent that A9.com has produced.

Chris Winfield, president of search engine marketing firm 10E20, said Amazon is hoping the move will help it compete with major search engines.

"Online yellow pages are big business and also becoming a very competitive landscape as we have seen with the recent consolidations," he said. "Whoever emerges as the dominant player... will control a very lucrative market where we see more and more revenues going towards."

Winfield said the Block View enhancement from A9 gives people a reason to use A9 above other products.

"This is the first time that I have been seriously impressed with A9, and see it as being a possible major player," he said. "When it first debuted it had some cool features, but the core of it was built on Google's technologies, and none of the features were impressive enough to make someone want to change from Google or Yahoo in my opinion."

So far the photos are limited to New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Atlanta, Denver, Dallas, Seattle and Portland, Ore. The company said it had plans to expand to others cities.