expands searching of books to include text

Friday, October 24th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SEATTLE (AP) _ is expanding the ways people can search for books on its Web site, as the Seattle-based Internet retailer offers its homegrown solution for finding what you're looking for _ even if you never knew it existed.

The new feature allows users to find books by words and phrases in the text, not just by the title or author. The company has already turned the text of more than 120,000 books into a searchable digital database in which users can enter queries such as ``Holden Caulfield'' and be given a listing of books mentioning the famous character from J.D. Salinger's ``Catcher in the Rye.'' has long offered a search engine on its Web site to help users navigate through its inventory of electronics, videos, compact discs and other products for sale. But the text-searching feature deepens Amazon's ability to connect customers with books for which they might not know the title or author, said Steve Kessel, a vice president for Amazon.

The technology builds upon the existing ``Look Inside the Book'' feature in which users have been able to electronically browse several pages of a book. The new feature, called ``Search Inside the Book,'' will include more and more books over time, Kessel said.

He added that the company is focusing on books and not on other product categories, such as music.

Kessel declined to specify how the technology determines the relevance of the search results to users and how much money the company has invested in developing its search software.

Amazon has long relied on records of past purchases customers make to offer suggestions for other products they might want.

The new search engine is solely for Amazon's network of Web sites and the company has no plans to sell the technology to outsiders, Kessel said.

But Amazon has already shown some ambitions to use its technology beyond its Web site borders. The company established a subsidiary, Palo Alto, Calif.-based A9, which is focusing on e-commerce searches.

Internet searching as a whole has become a multibillion-dollar business, with companies including Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft's MSN division investing in new ways to improve how things are found on the Web _ and collecting revenue from advertisers who pay for listings.

The key, search companies say, is delivering personally relevant results to the user.

Whether Amazon's A9 may emerge into a competitor to Google or others is up for debate, said Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Watch. But Amazon's technology and tools for collecting and evaluating personal information could be a powerful weapon in improving the relevance of results, he said.

``The ability to measure what people like and make suggestions _ that kind of technological capability could be useful in Web search,'' he said.