John Battelle just posted that Amazon is opening up its Alexa search data and tools to the world! According to John, Alexa has about 5 billion documents in its index, which is about 100 terabytes of data. With this move anyone will be able to use Alexa's index to develop their own services. As John wrote:

"Anyone can also use Alexa's servers and processing power to mine its index to discover things - perhaps, to outsource the crawl needed to create a vertical search engine, for example. Or maybe to build new kinds of search engines entirely, or ...well, whatever creative folks can dream up. And then, anyone can run that new service on Alexa's (er...Amazon's) platform, should they wish."

Mashup heaven! Called the Alexa Web Search Platform, it will be available to use for quite reasonable fees. Will this make Amazon a major search player? Too early to tell, but it's certainly going to make Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft sit up and take notice of Amazon again.

TechCrunch and Dan Farber are also covering the story. More on this as it develops...

Cross-linked to ZDNet.

Update: alert ZDNet reader duncan12 tells us there are two distinct services: "The new service is called the Alexa Web Search Platform, websearch.alexa.com, not to be confused with the Alexa Web Information Service, aws.amazon.co/awis. The former provides developers programmatic access to Alexa Crawl and Infrastructure, while the latter is a Web service that allows developers to extract pre-processed data about Web sites."

I've updated my post accordingly. FYI...

The Alexa Web Search Platform "provides public access to the vast web crawl collected by Alexa Internet. Users can search and process billions of documents -- even create their own search engines -- using Alexa's search and publication tools. Alexa provides compute and storage resources that allow users to quickly process and store large amounts of web data. Users can view the results of their processes interactively, transfer the results to their home machine, or publish them as a new web service."

The Alexa Web Information Service (quoted in an earlier version of this post) is an existing service that "offers a platform for creating innovative web solutions and services based on Alexa's vast repository of information about the web. Developers, researchers, web site owners, and merchants can get information about Web sites, such as traffic data, contact info and related links, as well as an xml-based search engine and browse service, and incorporate them directly into their own Web sites or services."

Update 2: The Alexa Blog has posted about it: "Today, Alexa is releasing the Alexa Web Search Platform Beta (websearch.alexa.com), effectively opening up the Alexa Web Crawl and ushering in a new era where anybody can create new search services without having to invest millions of dollars in crawl, storage, processing, search and server technology."

I liked how TechDirt put it: "...hopefully it will nudge some of the search players into realizing that they can be much more powerful by turning themselves into platforms rather than destinations." Also Jeff Clavier notes: "Search engines indexes are one step closer of being a commodity - at least for the "Surface web" (as opposed to the Deep Web)."

Of course, the true test will be how many people actually use Alexa's Web Search Platform to create new and viable services. It's a bit like ning.com - it all sounds great in theory, but let's see what plays out in practice.