A9.com, Amazon's web search startup, has done a major design that completely changes the site.
It now appears to be a metasearch engine, like Dogpile or Metacrawler, that gives a lot of control over which seach engines are used.
I actually like the site better than before -- it seems cleaner and more usable to me -- but the functionality seems minimal, merely showing search results side-by-side from many search engines. Despite the spiffy AJAX UI on top, this is the kind of thing that has been around for a decade.
I would love to see A9 go a big step further and automatically decide which of thousands of search engines to query based on the information need of the searcher, then combining and reranking the results. That is a hard problem, but a very interesting one.
Danny Sullivan has some scathing comments about A9's redesign. Danny says, "Frankly, A9's always felt like some type of Amazon plaything, a way for Amazon to say they were in search but also pretend it was all just an experiment, if it failed to succeed. I think the failure is now apparent, and Amazon seems to be cutting its losses pretty dramatically."
Ouch, but there is a lot of truth in Danny's words. A9 spent millions going nowhere instead of attacking the interesting and hard problems in personalized search, federated search, and personalized advertising.
See also my previous post, "What will become of A9?"
Update: The punches keep coming. Paul Kedrosky says Amazon has been "wasting their time in nowhere search efforts." Joe at TechDirt says, "[Amazon] realizes it doesn't have much to bring to search." Ouch.
Update: Six months later, it appears this redesign did nothing to prevent a sharp drop in traffic to A9.com.