'Excite'able Buy Bulks Up Jeeves

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Online search engine Ask Jeeves Inc. is paying $343 million for a family of popular Web sites that includes Excite.com and iWon.com, bulking up the company as it vies to wrest market share away from industry leaders Google Inc. and Yahoo! Inc.

Under the deal announced Thursday, Emeryville-based Ask Jeeves will double in size with the acquisition of Interactive Search Holdings, a privately held company in Irvington, New York, with about 200 employees and more than $100 million in annual revenue.

The Interactive Search operations will remain in New York after the takeover closes in the second quarter, with most of the workers, including company co-founders Bill Daugherty and Jonas Steinman, expected to be retained.

The price consists of $150 million in cash and 9.3 million shares of Ask Jeeves' stock, which closed Wednesday at $20.71. Ask Jeeves announced the deal before the stock market opened Thursday.

Launched in 1999, Interactive Search's best-known properties are the sweepstakes site iWon, which gives away $10,000 per day to attract traffic, and Excite, which was bought for $10 million in 2001 when the site was auctioned in bankruptcy court. The company's other sites include My Way, which waged an anti-Yahoo marketing campaign in late 2002.

Interactive Search — better known as The Excite Network — ran the 12th busiest group of Web sites in January, attracting a total of 23.8 million unique visitors in January, according to comScore Media Metrix, a research firm. Ask Jeeves ranked as the 26th most popular destination with 15.6 million unique visitors.

Based on the combined audience of 39 million, Ask Jeeves' collection of Web sites would become the eighth most popular properties on the Internet, ranking just ahead of Amazon.com, according to comScore's latest traffic figures.
  • Jaime Holguin

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