While Amazon-owned A9 launched to great fanfare last year, it's not clear how much use it's really gotten. After all, people realized it was just a fancy front-end for Google. Sure, it did some neat tricks, but how many of those were really worthwhile for the average surfer? Well, it looks like A9 is really starting to branch out. While all the other search engines have been trying to copy each other as fast as possible (desktop search, local search, video search, etc...), A9 went out and did something that will be a bit more difficult for anyone to just go out and copy. They sent out trucks with cameras attached to terabytes of storage and photographed businesses in commercial districts all around the country. They took all that data, and just added a local search that actually features photographs of the places you're looking up. Sounds like one more step in the merging of the digital and analog worlds. Of course, if Google somehow integrates its Keyhole satellite surfing system into their local search, that might be even cooler. Still, having a photo of any local business certainly can be helpful for those in unfamiliar areas. It's not really clear if this will ever be worth the expense of taking all those photos, but having that database of images can certainly be quite useful. Of course, this might put a damper on that company we wrote about a few months ago that was trying to create the same sort of database to sell. Anyway, some of the other features are fairly useful as well, including typical Amazon style reviews and rankings, as well as a "click to call" feature that is suddenly getting much more popular. Now, if only they could team up with those researchers who were working on a system where you could snap a cameraphone photograph of any building and it could tell you where you are. Maybe those guys don't have to worry so much about building a database... Someone else is already doing it for them.
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