Ask Jeeves Unveils VOIP Strategy

SAN FRANCISCO (03/06/2000) - Web information access provider Ask Jeeves Inc. today unveiled its VOIP (voice-over-Internet Protocol) strategy which will allow the company's corporate clients to hold real-time voice conversations with their customers.

Through a non-exclusive technology swap agreement with Trillium Digital Systems Inc., Ask Jeeves will embed the communication software vendor's H.323 VOIP stack into the Jeeves Live service to enable voice communications over Net connections, Steve Roop, Ask Jeeves director of product management, said today in a phone interview.

The two companies are already engaging in joint engineering work and Roop expects the first deployments of the VOIP technology to appear in the third quarter of this year. "You'll absolutely see us (Ask Jeeves) as one of the first parties to go live," he said. "We eat our own dog food."

Ask Jeeves is best known for its Jeeves Answers service, a natural language question-and-answer format search engine aimed at both individual end-users seeking information and corporate customers looking for specific technical data.

The company's Jeeves Live service, aimed at corporate e-business customers, currently facilitates real-time text-based IM (instant messaging) between customers and live company representatives. The service typically comes into play when a customer reaches a limit on the basic question-and-answer format and needs to engage another human in conversation in order to close a sale or have a technical query fully answered, Roop said. The addition of VOIP to Jeeves Live is a yet another step in Ask Jeeves' strategy to "humanize the Net," he added.

Under the terms of the non-exclusive deal announced today, Trillium will gain access to Ask Jeeves' IMPP (instant messaging and presence protocol) standards-based software, Roop said. Once its products are IMPP-enabled, Trillium will be able to offer an end-user presence awareness feature to its customers, he added.

IMPP can determine not only what device a user is working on -- be it their home or work PC, a cell phone with Internet access or a Net-enabled PDA (personal digital assistant) -- but also what the device's limitations are -- for example, if it can handle VOIP, Roop said. Ask Jeeves heads up the group in the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) working on the IMPP standard, he added. Other members of the IETF group involved in IMPP development include Microsoft Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc. and IBM Corp.'s Lotus subsidiary.

Ask Jeeves today has around 90 corporate customers spread across the telecommunications, financial services, retail and infomedia sectors, Roop said. The firm's IT customers include Microsoft, Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Compaq Computer Corp., he added.

The company's approach to including VOIP technology in its services differs substantially from that of Ask Jeeves' competitors, since the vendor doesn't require customers to add any additional software or services to the network and voice gateways that they already have in place in their existing call center operations, Roop said.

Ask Jeeves can go after both high-end and mid-sized users through the tie-up with Trillium, Roop stressed.

One of the reasons Ask Jeeves chose to partner with Trillium was the small footprint of the software download -- 200K bytes -- the company offers to enable PCs with microphones and speakers to become VOIP-enabled, Roop said. The other suppliers Ask Jeeves looked at before deciding on Trillium offered downloads over 1M byte in size, he added.

Ask Jeeves, based in Emeryville, California, can be reached at +1-510-985-7400 or via the Internet at http://www.ask.com/. Trillium Digital Systems, based in Los Angeles, California,can be reached at +1-310-442-9222 or via the Internet at http://www.trillium.com/.

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