Say "Cheerio" to Jeeves
(BusinessWeek Online Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)
After nearly a decade as the search engine with a human face, AskJeeves.com is dumping the cheerful visage of the butler that has graced its pages. Starting on Feb. 27, the site will become known simply as Ask.com.
The character had been used under an agreement reached in 2000 with the estate of the late British novelist, P.G. Wodehouse, who penned a series of novels involving the adventures of the butler Jeeves and his master Bertie Wooster. When initially launched, AskJeeves.com allowed users to phrase their search terms as questions, such as "What is the capital of Ohio?" or "How many cups are in a gallon?"
Those days are over, says Daniel Read, vice-president for consumer products at the new Ask.Com, which for nearly a year has been part of IAC Search & Media, a unit of IAC/Interactive (IACI), Barry Diller's $5.7 billion [2005 sales] Internet concern: "The old name hearkened back to what we were five to seven years ago and not what we are now. And while we found there were some customers who were loyal to the AskJeeves name, most of our users were ambivalent about it." IAC paid $1.85 billion for the site, which first launched in 1996.
The question approach worked for a few years, and initially the company found a business building customer-support Web sites that would allow customers to ask questions on the Web. The business model changed when in 2001, AskJeeves acquired Teoma.com, itself once dubbed a "Google-killer," and built the Teoma search technology into the AskJeeves site. Starting on Feb. 27, Teoma.com will redirect users to Ask.com.
Jeeves's "retirement" hasn't been much of a secret. Diller has been quoted several times over the last year as saying that the character would be phased out.
The new name and identity coincide with a simpler, streamlined home page and the debut of a new feature known as the Ask.com Toolbox, which contains clickable shortcuts to more than 20 different specialized search tools. Other new features include a revised Ask.com Maps service that will compete directly with Google's (GOOG) Google Maps.
TINY TO SMALL?
Far behind search giants Google, Yahoo (YHOO), Microsoft's (MSFT) MSN Search, and even Time Warner's (TWX) AOL Search engine, Ask accounted for only 2.3% of search queries in November of 2005, according to Nielsen NetRatings. But Ask.com is the power behind other search sites like MyWay.com, which accounted for 2.5% of searches in the same period, and iWon.com, which made up half a percentage point.
"We see ourselves as the underdog in the market," Read says. "We have about 20 million unique users in the U.S., and that's not like matching the market share of a Yahoo or a Google, but it is building on the market share that we have."