Say Cheese, Seattle Adds Photographs to Directory

Online retail giant Inc. is trying to become a bigger player in the Internet’s crowded search engine market with a local business directory that supplements address and phone number listings with a photographic tour covering 10 major U.S. cities.

The free service, expected to be available Thursday from Amazon search subsidiary, consists of 20 million street-level photographs that will be displayed alongside local search results. Palo Alto-based A9 said it compiled the index by covering tens of thousands of miles in trucks equipped with digital cameras and global positioning system, or GPS, receivers.

The new twist represents Seattle-based Amazon’s latest attempt to grab a larger piece of the highly profitable search engine market, which is currently led by Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc., with Microsoft Corp., AOL, Ask Jeeves Inc. and a long list of upstarts scrambling to catch up.

As an example of how A9’s novel approach works, a Web site visitor who clicks a Yellow Pages tab and searches for Mexican restaurants will see street-level pictures of building exteriors, besides the standard listing information found in other directories.

The new feature includes navigation tools that enable users to inspect the surrounding neighborhood.