Open Search Opens Up

Amazon’s search startup, A9.com, has launched a new service called Open Search and it may shake things up a bit. Read on to see how this new open standards search offering works and how it might impact the industry. A9 is a late-comer to the search engine wars and has always had its work cut out, trying to find a distinction with a difference. Search results come from Google and supplemented by information form theAmazon.com database, the Internet Movie Database and GuruNet. Considering that the results generated by querying A9 are all drawn from other sources, A9 has always been forced to differentiate itself with its feature set. The default implementation of the A9 search tool includes a search history, where it keeps you previous searches and organizes for you chronologically. You can also take notes on sites and search result sets and the system will store them for you. From a research perspective these are good and useful tools, but the simple fact is that most people won’t find these basic tools reason enough to abandon their search engines of choice. With the addition of Open Search, A9 has solved two of their biggest problems in one fell swoop: How to get more search results and how to create a tool that is truly unique and useful. What is Open Search? A9 gives us this explanation: “a collection of technologies, all built on top of popular open standards, to allow content providers to publish their search results in a format suitable for syndication.” OK, but what does that mean exactly? Basically the idea is that virtually any site with a search box can syndicate their search results to any other site that wants to aggregate and display them. Open Search allows you to draw results from a wide variety of search resources scattered throughout the Web. A9 uses the technology as a way to build a personalized metasearch tool. They make it easy for you to find Open Search enabled resources, search them all simultaneously and deliver the results to one window for easy review. Users are able to select the search resources they want to use and query them at the same time they query the primary A9 engine, or they can even hide the A9 engine and use only the specialized resources. The user picks exactly what they want and can add or filter out resources with the click of a button. While this may initially sound like a traditional meta-search engine it is not. Obviously, it is multi-threaded (allows you to query multiple sources simultaneously), but the similarity to traditional meta search tools, like Dogpile, ends there. It is the technology and the philosophy behind Open Search that makes it different and where it has the potential to be revolutionary. Open Search is not a search engine, but rather a way for existing search engines, even small ones, to syndicate their content. The system is based on an open standard which allows virtually anyone who has a website which employs a site search tool to “open” that search tool to A9. By adding a simply bit of code to your website, your site contents can be syndicated via Open Search. Let’s say for example you are a non-profit organization (or a blogger, or an online store, or whatever) and that you maintain information about your activities on your website. And let’s say your website includes a site search tool. If you wanted to expand the reach of your organization, to get the content to more people, you could add the Open Search code to your site and submit the link to A9, thereafter, a link would appear on the A9 Open Search page, allowing people who are interested in your organization to include your site in their searches. Open Search relies on a variation to RSS 2.0 technology; the same technology which has been making big waves on the Web and fueling the blogging phenomenon, PodCasting, and website syndication. The standards are open and not controlled by any one organization. By innovating this modification to RSS, A9 has planted a seed which may revolutionize the way the Web is searched. Now site owners can designate whether they want their site to be indexed and searched, and users can create for themselves lists of sources they deem reliable and useful and incorporate them into their primary search behavior. And perhaps more importantly, since this is a completely open technology, anyone can adopt it to their use, displaying search results anywhere, anytime. Among the resources you can choose from at present are: The New York Times, FlickR, the National Library of Medicine (PubMed), NASA, Wikipedia, MSDN, Furl, Answers.com, AccuWeather, Feedster, the CIA, About.com, and many more. Though the service was only announced on March 15th, the list of contributed search engines has been growing on an almost daily basis. Originally published in the Bangkok Post, 13 April 2005.

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