Google Steals CEO at Amazon's A9

Rob Hof

Via a post from John Battelle, I see that Udi Manber has left as CEO of's A9 search operation in Palo Alto to join Google. Amazon just put out the news on the new A9 CEO, David Tennenhouse.

Manber, who will be one of Google's vice-presidents of engineering, is one of the search community's leading lights. So his departure--especially to the god of search--will be seen as quite a loss for Amazon's hopes of participating in Web search. And that's crucial for Amazon as search increasingly enfolds all things online, including e-commerce. It also doesn't help that Barnaby Dorfman, A9's vice-president in charge of business development and marketing, recently left for Peerflix.

Udi isn't talking yet. Amazon's Craig Berman said only that he "wants to go back to his passion in working with search" rather than manage a company. No reason to doubt that, though I always had the impression that Udi really wanted to take search into entirely new realms of usefulness. Clearly, he must have felt he could do that better at Google.

That said, Manber's successor at A9 is no slouch. Tennenhouse was director of research at Intel and before that, director of DARPA's Information Technology Office. He's a heavyweight, in other words--especially in technology management. That no doubt will become increasingly important as A9 seeks to become a full-fledged business that presumably will depend on more than sponsored ads (Google's sponsored ads, in fact).

Indeed, you could make a case that A9's potential hasn't been exploited as well as it might so far. Its user interface remains a bit daunting in some observers' eyes, but it has some pretty neat features, such as the ability to choose among a wide variety of specific databases to search. And its maps, with tens of thousands of street-level photos, are undeniably cool.

It's just going to be a tough slog against a very entrenched, powerful competitor that shows no signs of losing ground to anyone. Maybe it's too late to out-Google Google, as some folks believe. But given that search does have so far to go to get better, I think the right folks--whether at A9 or somewhere else--can still carve out a lot of valuable new ground.

: My colleague Steve Baker over at Blogspotting raises an interesting point for Google: Will all those hotshots over there start stepping on each other's toes? Reminds me of a label I once heard about Microsoft Labs: an intellectual roach motel (the big brains check in but never check out). Seems that Google has plenty of projects to keep most of them happy (some would say too many). On the other hand, how many VPs of technology does one company need?

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