Ask Jeeves Stresses Popularity as Differentiator

SAN FRANCISCO (04/24/2000) - Web information access provider Ask Jeeves Inc. today took the wraps off its Webwide Navigation Services, a suite of three popularity-based Internet navigation products. The company is hoping that the suite will help differentiate its product portfolio in the crowded Net search technology market.

"It's all about relevancy," said Sean Murphy, vice president of product management at Ask Jeeves, in a phone interview Friday. "There's a lot of focus to drive users to a Web site, but not a lot of focus on the user experience at the site." Ask Jeeves' logic is that any Web site or portal offering better targeted search services is more likely to retain its customers. Portals are Web sites that act as the first entry points to other resources on the Internet.

Popularity is the concept of using the most popular previous Net user searches as a way to better refine an Internet search. For example, if user was searching on the word 'dogs,' popularity technology would display the most popular searches carried out previously on 'dogs,' Murphy explained.

The three Webwide Navigation Services suite products are Jeeves Popularity Search, Jeeves Directory Search and Jeeves Compare. Ask Jeeves acquired the technology behind the trio with the purchase of Natick, Massachusetts-based Direct Hit Technologies Inc. earlier this year. At the time the company announced the purchase, Ask Jeeves said the planned acquisition of Direct Hit would likely double its customer base. [See "Ask Jeeves to Acquire Direct Hit," Jan. 25.]Jeeves Popularity Search represents a new release of the Direct Hit Popularity Engine, so that the software is now available for site-specific implementations, according to Murphy.

The popularity engine contains a database and an algorithm to analyze information about where people go on the Internet. The engine uses patented popularity technology developed by Direct Hit's founder Gary Culliss, who hit upon the idea when he was a patent agent. "We own five patents on the (popularity) technology, no one else can do it," Murphy at Ask Jeeves said.

Culliss discovered that hearing about his colleagues' searches of a patent database helped him both refine and speed up his own searches of the database.

The search engine he developed collectively analyzes what the majority of Net users are asking and then places Web sites typically chosen by other users higher on a response list to a user's search than other less popular sites.

Jeeves Directory Search layers the popularity engine on top of the Open Directory Project information base, a standards body initiative to develop standards around what directories should look like in terms of their taxonomy, Ask Jeeves' Murphy said. Customers can modify the standard, and Jeeves Directory Search also utilizes other search technology to give users the ability to search on common words and topics contained within their original search.

Jeeves Compare, a research and development product at Direct Hit, applies the popularity concept to comparison online shopping. Jeeves Shopping, Ask Jeeves' online shopping channel, ranks more than 2 million products across a wide variety of categories for Net-wide searches. With the inclusion of popularity, a specific product will not only be ranked by price and merchant, but also by its popularity among Internet shoppers.

Customers for Ask Jeeves' Webwide Navigation Services include Go2Net Inc. and Lycos Europe. Lycos Europe is a new customer, while Go2Net was already a Direct Hit customer, Murphy said. AT&T Corp. is the first customer for Jeeves Compare, he added.

Specific pricing is not available for the Webwide Navigation Services suite since Ask Jeeves' pricing models are tailored to individual customers and whether they derive their revenue from Web site advertising or subscription, Murphy said.

Ask Jeeves is already using the popularity engine on both its own Web site and that of Direct Hit. Over time, the company aims to combine both Web sites into a single entity, according to Murphy.

"We will keep the Direct Hit name right now, since a significant number of users go to the Direct Hit Web site," he said. "We're still exploring what the time line will look like, but we'll definitely integrate (Direct Hit and Ask Jeeves) into one brand over time."

Ask Jeeves, based in Emeryville, California, can be reached at +1-510-985-7400 or via the Internet at http://www.ask.com/. Direct Hit, in Natick, Massachusetts, can be reached at +1-508-653-5800 or via the Internet at http://www.directhit.com/.

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