OUT OF THE BLUE
"...Amazon Looks to Change the Game" is the LARGE, breathless, embargo-ending headline (via Memeorandum) from John Battelle this evening, supplemented with posts from Om Malik, and many, many others. As the Wall Street Journal explains in a more muted tone:
"An Amazon.com Inc. unit plans to allow software and Web developers to request customized data searches when it scans the Web to seek new information, something that other commercial search engines generally don't allow.
Search engines regularly scan for new data on Web sites, a process known as crawling. Alexa, a small San Francisco-based search engine that Amazon purchased in 1999, said it will offer tools that let developers make special requests for information such as images or music files during Web crawls. A test version of this service, called the Alexa Web Search Platform, will be widely available to the public today."
And it is indeed, right here if you want to see it directly. Amazon is on a roll...just last month they announced their "Mechanical Turk" that in my view redefines "Work 2.0"...and now this.
And to be fair to Battelle and company, it IS an out-of-the-box move that potentially enables a fountain of creative, search services that emerge to take advantage of what I'd call an "Index Utility" business model that Amazon/Alexa proposes. As John Battelle explains:
"Anyone can also use Alexa's servers and processing power to mine its index to discover things - perhaps, to outsource the crawl needed to create a vertical search engine, for example...
It's all done via web services. It's all integrated with Amazon's fabled web services platform. And there's no licensing fees. Just "consumption fees" which, at my first glance, seem pretty reasonable. ("Consumption" meaning consuming processor cycles, or storage, or bandwidth).
The fees? One dollar per CPU hour consumed. $1 per gig of storage used. $1 per 50 gigs of data processed. $1 per gig of data uploaded (if you are putting your new service up on their platform).
In other words, Alexa and Amazon are turning the index inside out, and offering it as a web service that anyone can mashup to their hearts content. Entrepreneurs can use Alexa's crawl, Alexa's processors, Alexa's server farm....the whole nine yards."
The WSJ gives an example of how this may be used by third parties large and small:
"For instance, someone who wanted to build a podcasting search engine could use Alexa's tools and computers to request specialized audio files that were newly available on the Web. That would allow the entrepreneur to spend more time coming up with a way to search for relevant podcasts, Mr. Gilliat (Alexa CEO) said."
The opening up of the index in itself is not the ground-breaking idea here, but doing it AT THE SCALE Alexa/Amazon propose to do it, and as an "index utility" per se, certainly seems to be...again, as the WSJ notes:
"Some of the biggest search services, such as Google Inc., Yahoo Inc., and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN unit, offer developers access to their Web indexes. Most of them offer software-developer kits and APIs, or application programming interface, which let programs access an operating system and other services."
This is not necessarily a detriment to the business models of a Google and/or a Yahoo! and certainly they could do the same, with potentially incrementally positive financial effect.
As Om Malik theorizes though:
"Amazon.com is trying to inflict death by a thousand cuts to rivals including the GYM Gang."
My First Question though is as follows:
Given that Microsoft and Bill Gates are actively thinking up ways to potentially disrupt Google's business model, how could they leverage this idea to the next level?
Especially in combination with tinkering with the way the paid-search revenue pie is shared amongst the industry participants.
Second Question: if some or all parts of the major search engine players do something similar, how does it affect, if at all, the way the Search business works today, with particular emphasis on advertisers and the SEO (Search Engine Optimizers) ?
Food for thought for future posts, and potentially worth mulling over some more.
In the meantime, congratulations to Amazon and Alexa, for doing an elegant Rubik's Cube twist to the tried and true search industry model.
12.13.05, 10 am EST: Phil Waineright at ZDNET offers an interesting twist of the cube that can potentially occur with Amazon's move:
"Imagine this scenario, which could come to fruition within a matter of days: using AWSP, a developer sets up a vertical search engine serving a market that attracts high-value pay-per-click advertising. The developer monetizes its new search engine by carrying Google AdSense. Yes, that's right, an Alexa-driven search engine that's funded by Google-driven ads. At a stroke, it becomes obvious that Google's wealth doesn't come from the fact that it's a search engine funded by advertising. It comes from the fact that it's a pay-per-click contextual advertising engine, which also happens to run its own search engine.