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Published: Saturday, 9/25/2004

A9 puts new spin on search

A new search engine called A9 (www.a9.com) may be no better than Google, Yahoo!, MSN, and Ask Jeeves in finding information on the Internet. But A9 goes way beyond the old mainstays in organizing, presenting, and managing search results.

Use A9 a few times, and you realize that it s a step toward providing everyone who goes online with a personal information management system.

Don t be fooled by the bare-basics look at the home page. Do a search, and A9 s differences from other search engines will blossom on the results screen.

In addition to a web search done with Google technology, A9 searches elsewhere and makes the results available via clickable buttons at the right-hand side of the screen. The results screen really is a web information management interface.

One button, for instance, provides results from Search Inside the Book, an Amazon.com feature that displays a full page of a book s text surrounding your keyword or phrase. Click another button, and you get results from GuruNet s huge reference library. It may be a formal definition of your search term or an encyclopedia entry describing the term. Click other buttons, and you get results from the Internet Movie Data base (with movie titles relating to your search term) or images related to the search.

Each button click opens a new column on the screen with clickable links that take you to the information. The result is a layered display of multiple sources of information about a topic. Small links at the top of each column let you expand them to full-page size, or close them. You also can use the mouse pointer to drag the margins of each column.

To get an idea of the interface s power, try Mars as your keyword, and then click the buttons on the right. You get columns of web sites on the Red Planet, book pages, images, movies, and an encyclopedia page. It s all there at your fingertips, much to the delight of anyone researching a topic in depth.

Check out those other three buttons, too History, Bookmarks, and Diary. If you download the A9 Toolbar (via a link in upper right), the Diary feature allows you to record, save, and consult notes about any web page. Bookmarks is a different way of storing and using links to favorite web sites.

A9 saves your Diary and Bookmarks on its own servers, so that you can access them from any computer.

The home page offers a link (Why Use A9.com?) that explains the search service s features. It is worth reading.

A9 is a part of Amazon.com, which becomes apparent when you click on book page and certain other links and find yourself at the Amazon site. That s only a minor annoyance, and well worth A9 s convenience and depth.

Many users, however, may not need A9 s depth for the quick, simple searches that account for a big proportion of search engine use.

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