Ask Jeeves To Polish Its Act

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Hoping to emerge from the shadow of its more popular rivals, Ask Jeeves Inc. is adding new tools for visitors to save and organize links to Web pages they find through the company's online search engine.

The free features, scheduled to be unveiled Tuesday, represent Ask Jeeves' latest attempt to get a leg up on industry leaders Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc.

Even as the Emeryville, Calif.-based company improves its search technology and becomes increasingly profitable, Ask Jeeves has struggled to shake its early reputation as a financially feeble dot-com distributing an inferior product.

Ask Jeeves believes it has been steadily gaining on its better-known rivals and hopes to take another significant leap with its "MyJeeves" offerings.

"Google is not better than us," said Jim Lanzone, an Ask Jeeves senior vice president. "We are both operating at a world-class level. We just have a different flavor."

Like its rivals, the company is trying to develop new ways to persuade visitors to return more frequently and stay longer once they're there.

Ask Jeeves has a long way to go to catch up, though. Through July, Google handled about 36 percent of Internet searches, with Yahoo at 29 percent, according to comScore Media Metrix, a research firm. Ask Jeeves' various search engines, which include Teoma, Excite and iWon, held a 6 percent share.

The latest features aren't technological breakthroughs. A9.com, an upstart from Internet retail giant Amazon.com Inc., just last week introduced a similar feature for visitors to save Web links inscribed with personal notes. A $29.95 software program called Onfolio also helps collate and classify Web sites.

Ask Jeeves is touting its service as more user-friendly because it doesn't require the installation of any toolbars or software programs.

Industry analysts view Ask Jeeves' new approach as a small but significant evolutionary step in the search engine battles.

"The next generation of search isn't going to be about who can build the biggest indexes (of Web pages)," said analyst Charlene Li of Forrester Research. "It's going to be about finding better ways to personalize search results and modify the way the results are presented."

Users of the new MyJeeves features will be able to save Web pages by clicking on a clearly marked button next to every link turned up in a search request. The saved links then can be placed in individual folders sorted by topic, such as "maps," "weather" and "shopping." Personal notes can be added.

Although registration isn't required, Ask Jeeves' new tools encourage it. Visitors with a login can save an unlimited number of pages and view them from any computer. Others are limited to 1,000 documents on a single computer.

The company is also introducing Ask Jeeves Local, which offers business and service listings, user ratings and other information from partner CitySearch. It also now provides local news, powered by Topix.net.

Underscoring the added muscle of its search engine, Ask Jeeves also has spiffed up the genteel butler that has served as its mascot since the 8-year-old company's inception. The butler has lost his double chin and gained a tan, along with slightly more hair and a more self-assured posture.

Ask Jeeves is relying upon its own search algorithms and Web index, now spanning more than 2 billion pages, to power its latest features. The Amazon search engine relies primarily on Google's search formulas and index of 4.3 billion Web pages.

"Jeeves has something that is more polished and more robust" than Amazon's version, said Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Watch, an industry newsletter.

Both Sullivan and Forrester Research's Li believe Google and Yahoo will blunt the impact of MyJeeves by introducing similar features soon. Both Google and Yahoo declined to discuss how they might respond to Ask Jeeves' latest push.
  • Lloyd Vries

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