What it is: Alexa is, at its heart, a search-enabler company. But unlike Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, Alexa's differentiator, and possible Web disrupter, is its openness. That is, anyone can rent out its index. For fees such as $1 per CPU hour used and $1 per 50 gigabytes of data processed, anyone can create a custom search by Web crawling the Alexa Web Search Platform data of 200 to 300 terabytes of information.
Why it matters: While it seems technical (and it is), it's a radical concept for developers. What was impossible before, prohibited by cost and time, is now possible. Users can create niche search engines or services or do research no one has ever tried at an acceptable cost. Because Alexa's open engine is only several months old, groundbreaking search applications have yet to be discovered. But some, such as Internet-publishing scion John Battelle, say Alexa could "change the game."
Who's behind it: Alexa is an Amazon company. That means Alexa is run on the same Amazon Web Services platform that allows affiliate stores the ability to tap Amazon's $1 billion platform for information such as product data (images, pricing, and customer reviews) and purchase histories.
Who's using it: Already a handful of clever mash-ups simply using free Alexa data (not the Web Search Platform) are grabbing significant blog buzz. For instance, Alexadex is an online trading game that uses Alexa Web feeds on Amazon to rank and "price" Web-site stocks. The fantasy stock-trading game is admired by many trying to get into its Hall of Fame. (If you want in, the new season starts May 1, when everyone is sent back to $10,000.) Alexaholic uses Alexa traffic data to elegantly and instantly create charts chronicling metrics of up to five competing Web sites.
What it means: If it catches on, the potential for amazing applications, services and research is limited only by developer imagination. And if that happens, better add an Amazon "A" to the big three search of Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.