Ask.com gets upgrade for more 'intuitive' search

Not to be left behind in the swift-moving Internet search market, Ask Jeeves Inc. is set to introduce enhancements to its Ask.com search site Monday, including new picture, news and product search tools, clarification options, spell check and a faster-loading Web page design.

The upgrades are aimed at carving a niche in the crowded search market, where the company hopes to distinguish itself by offering what it calls "Smart Search" options, which it says are more intuitive.

"We've made the experience more intuitive and responsive. It's almost the first step in a new strategy for us," said Daniel Read, director of product development at Ask Jeeves.

As part of its intuitive approach, the company has added picture search functions that supply actual images as well as links in the results. The feature does not require users to click an extra image search tab because it is integrated into the core search function. Likewise, the enhanced news search turns up headlines as well as links to the information on the subject and does not require users to click an additional news tab.

The company has also added more links to its related search options, allowing users to refine or further explore a subject, and put in place clarification tools to help users distinguish between similarly named subjects. While searching for the word "jaguar," for example, a user would be asked whether she was referring to the animal, the sports team or the car.

The Smart Search tools also include spell check to recognize misspelled words and offer corrections, and popular subject search for driving directions, zip code search and language translation, for example.

The Ask.com site was also redesigned to load 50 percent faster than previously, the Emeryville, California, company said.

The upgrades build on Ask Jeeves' natural language processing technology, which allows users to search in a question format and receive results. This query format has been one of Ask Jeeves' distinguishing features in the search market and has led some to label Jeeves' users as Internet novices.

The company dismisses these characterization, however, citing a February 2003 Nielsen//NetRatings survey saying that it boasts more than 13 million unique users and performs more than 5 million searches a day, making it the number-two search engine behind leader Google Inc.

"The popular misconception of Ask Jeeves' users as newbies couldn't be further from the truth. We know that we have a lot of experienced users," Read said.

While Google has captured a large audience of Net users with its detailed search and quirky style, a host of other search providers have been busy updating their engines to try to get a piece of the market. Yahoo Inc., for example, recently launched a new search site in an effort to get back to its search roots.

Ask Jeeves hopes that it can compete with these search competitors by offering a more responsive approach that addresses users' different query styles.

"What we've found is that people have different search needs. Sometimes they are looking to explore and sometimes they are looking for a short cut to an answer," Read said. "We've produced a major upgrade to react to these user needs."

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