A9 and the demise of SiteInfo?

Amazon.com’s search site, A9, has scaled back drastically. The rewards program is gone, as are bookmarks and history. They’ve even discontinued the A9 toolbar.

This of course brings up questions about some of the site integration technologies that they developed. OpenSearch has already taken on a life of its own, and in fact the new A9 seems to be mostly an OpenSearch aggregator. But what of SiteInfo?

SiteInfo was a scheme for a website to provide a drop-down menu for site navigation. The menu could be hierarchical, and could make use of user-entered search phrases. The website owner would create an XML file, siteinfo.xml, and place it in the site root. The client software would then request this file to populate the WebMenu, which would appear somewhere in the browser.

It’s not clear how useful this is. In some ways, it’s like the navigation toolbars some browsers* will build from <link> elements in a page’s header. A nifty idea, but it largely duplicates navigation that’s already on the page. (That said, <link> elements provide useful clues for bots, prefetching, fast forward and other automated tasks.)

I’d set one up for the Alternative Browser Alliance a few months ago, since it was a small site and easy to build the file, but never got around to figuring out what I’d put in a menu for this site.

As far as I know, only the A9 toolbar and the A9 SiteInfo extension for Firefox will actually check for this file.** There doesn’t seem to be anything preventing other toolbars or browsers from making use of the data, it just doesn’t seem to have caught on.

So it looks like SiteInfo is down to one unmaintained extension for one browser. Its future looks bleak.

*Opera: View » Toolbars » Navigation Bar.
In SeaMonkey: View » Show/Hide » Site Navigation Bar.

**Possibly to avoid a repeat of the favicon.ico fiasco, the toolbar routed requests through a caching proxy to limit duplicate requests. Any privacy issues were outweighed by the fact that A9 already kept a record of your browsing history—and it was a selling point! The SiteInfo Extension makes requests directly.

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