PC World's Techlog
News, opinion, and links from Editor in Chief Harry McCracken.

Amazon's A9 Search as We Knew It: Dead!

Posted by Harry McCracken | Friday, September 29, 2006 5:32 PM PT

There's only one toolbar I install religiously on every browser on every PC I use: Amazon's A9 Toolbar, which gives me handy access not only to the A9 search engine but also to a set of personal bookmarks and a record of my searches which I can get to from any PC. For the past couple of years, all this has been as much a part of my computing experience as Firefox. And by searching on A9, I've been eligible for a 1.57% discount on Amazon purchases--tiny, I know, but hey, it's been free money and one more reason to shop at Amazon.

A9 has been responsible for some other inventive search-related stuff, too, such as the way its maps feature sported BlockView photographs of businesses, taken by trucks which roamed the streets of major cities snapping pictures as they went.

Last week, I made a purchase at Amazon and noticed that it wasn't offering me my usual 1.57% kickback--I noticed its absence but didn't give it further thought.

And then today, I went to A9.com and discovered that my bookmarks weren't there. But a message was, explaining that A9 is discontinuing the A9 Toolbar, bookmarks, the search history, maps, BlockView, and other features, as well as that little discount. In other words, almost everything I liked about A9 has ceased to exist.

The A9 search site itself remains, with a spruced-up interface and its existing ability to search dozens of different engines and directories (using the OpenSearch standard championed by A9) with one click. As metasearch engines go, it's neat. But it's not what made me an A9 fan.

You gotta interpret this as a dramatic scaling back of Amazon's once-lofty ambitions for A9. I don't know the backstory, but it's obvious that much of what made A9 unique has been replicated by Google and other competitors. And while BlockView was unquestionably nifty, it was presumably a pricey exercise, and perhaps one that Amazon wasn't able to monetize.

The good news is that I should be able to replicate most of what I liked about A9 with the current version of the Google Toolbar and Google's Browser Sync extension for Firefox. (Amazon will let me download a copy of my bookmarks that I can probably import and retain; my search history is, I guess, gone forever.)

If Amazon gave me any official early heads up that that I was going to need to migrate to a different toolbar and search tools, I managed to miss it. (It woulda been nice to have had my bookmarks moved out of A9 and into something else before my ability to get to them at A9 went away.) And I'll certainly miss those A9 goodies--I suspect that for the next few weeks, my mousing fingers will aim my cursor at the A9 Toolbar even though it's not going to be there anymore.

I'm not bitter, though. To paraphrase Pogo, I've never taken free online services too seriously--they ain't nohow permanent...
Comments (4)

I always shied away from A9 because I didn't like the fact that it saved my searches and browsing history, and that it was all tied in with a merchant.

September 30, 2006
6:43 AM PT

For me, the browsing history was a selling point of A9. I loved the fact that a record of every webpage I visited while logged into the A9 toolbar was automatically saved, making it easy to see where I had been on the Web. Finding previously viewed websites was effortless, even if I only vaguely recalled what the site was about.

I have used A9 faithfully for two years, with most of that time spent logged into its toolbar. In that time, I have come to rely on my browsing history very heavily. A9 essentially served as an extension of my memory, which turned me into a devoted follower.

Now the A9 I knew is gone and two years of browsing history along with it. Like Harry said, Google does most of what A9 did, but as far as I know, it cannot currently store all of one?s browsing history online. That may be a feature I will have to learn to live without since no other company seems to do this either; most Internet users are more concerned with erasing their history than saving it.

October 02, 2006
1:44 PM PT

Amazon provides a link for you to download Bookmarks and Diary that you had in A9. Go to http://a9.com/-/company/whatsNew.jsp and they provide a link and instructions on how to retrieve them.

October 05, 2006
4:59 PM PT

I miss the a9.com bookmark feature -- it was my sole reason for using the toolbar. Google Browser Sync is useful, but only when using your own computers. Most approaches I've seen don't allow the definition of a hierarchy -- instead, they're tag based.

Does anyone have suggestions for alternatives to the a9.com bookmark feature?

October 27, 2006
10:55 AM PT