The loyal butler is gone. AskJeeves.com said today that it has retired Jeeves, its mascot servant, and will now answer the door simply as Ask.com, adopting a self-service approach for users looking for a focussed way to search the web beyond guessing keywords.
The new Ask.com features a slick, do-it-yourself toolbox that helps users refine more types of searches with the first click of their computer mouse for maps, images, dictionaries, weather, local info or documents stored on their computers.
Users can select from up to 20 different types of specialised search tools Ask.com has developed. Later this year, Ask will encourage outside developers to build tools to perform more specialised searches, the company said.
More popular rival search sites from Google, Yahoo or MSN require multiple clicks to reach such specialised information.
"Other engines just do 10 blue links and ads around them. We have really gone a lot further," Jim Lanzone, general manager of Ask.com, said in an interview.
"Users are going to experience a search engine that does more for them faster than any other search engine they use."
AskJeeves, the fourth most popular U.S. Internet search site, started out in 1996 by promising concrete answers to questions posed by Web users. Jeeves, the butler character, was meant to symbolise this theoretically better form of service.
A novelty for many Web users at first, AskJeeves struggled to attract a regular following. Having computers answer questions proved harder than many users first hoped.
"It was a place that overpromised and underdelivered during the dot-com days," Lanzone said. "To the majority of consumers AskJeeves is still a place for questions and answers."
Google arrived in 1998 with a page-ranking system based on the idea that credible answers typically come from sites that rank highest in terms of links from other sites. AskJeeves and other search sites have struggled to stand out ever since.
Barry Diller acquired AskJeeves last year and is working to make the search site the centrepiece of his IAC/InterActiveCorp Internet conglomerate of sites.
Ask's rebranding follows years of improvements to the underlying search algorithms that have drawn praise from search experts but have not been recognised by many web users.
Among the new features is the latest technology for mapping that allows the user not only to search for a map based on an address or postal code but build an itinerary with up to 10 different locations. Users also can rapidly pinpoint locations without knowing an exact address to create driving or walking directions based on overhead aerial maps.
Lanzone said the site should encourage loyal Jeeves fans to stay longer while attracting new users, building on momentum the site has enjoyed since August, when it cut back advertising clutter, making it less outwardly commercial than rivals.
ComScore data shows the number of searches being performed on AskJeeves growing at better than 20 percent over the past year, with its fourth-quarter share of the U.S. search market totalling 6.5 percent, up from 5.4 percent a year ago.
That's a far faster increase than Google Inc., Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp.'s MSN or Time Warner Inc.'s AOL, albeit off a smaller base.
"We are starting to see some genuine differentiation between the major players," said analyst Chris Sherman, president of Searchwise, the author of several books on the subject, who is based in Boulder, Colorado.
"The big challenge that Ask and Yahoo and others have is that many people are so habitually using Google to search that even if Ask has something better it may not matter," he said.
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