Ask Jeeves CEO: Technology Matters in Web Search

Q&A: It may get overshadowed by Google, Yahoo and MSN, but the company is ready for the search wars, top exec Steve Berkowitz says. And its Teoma engine and new Internet properties will help lead the charge.

Ask Jeeves Inc. almost seems to relish its underdog status in the Web search engine world. Its smaller than its top competitors, and its often been overlooked as the media and Silicon Valley ogle searchs revival.

But as attention has turned to Google Inc.s IPO and Microsoft Corp.s attempt to build its own MSN search engine, Ask Jeeves has been anything but silent.

The Emeryville, Calif., company has been rapidly launching new ways to view and organize search results, through its so-called "Smart Search" and "Binoculars" site-preview feature. It doubled its market share after acquiring Interactive Search Holdings Inc. in May. And most recently, it matched Google and Yahoo in the Web e-mail storage race.

For all of its new moves, though, Ask Jeeves crown jewel may well be Teoma. Teoma is a search-engine technology that Ask Jeeves acquired in 2001, and the company uses every opportunity to point out that it owns its own search technology. And to claim that its more innovative than Googles.

In a recent chat with Senior Writer Matt Hicks, Ask Jeeves CEO Steve Berkowitz left no doubt that he believes the future of search still depends on technology—both for Ask Jeeves and for the industry. He also signaled a future where users access search in new ways, where more structured information becomes accessible and where Ask Jeeves holds its own against growing competition. Time will tell.

Web search has become bigger and bigger news, especially with the increased competition from Yahoo, Microsoft and Googles IPO plans. You guys are somewhat smaller, but one of the only other companies out there with pure technology. Looking forward, what is the main way you plan to compete in this burgeoning field and to differentiate yourselves?

I think you hit it right with the word "differentiation," when you realize that theres only three search technologies left out there today. Theres Yahoo Search, which is Inktomi, theres Google and theres Teoma. And then theres going to be MSN at some point in time.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about how Yahoo dropped Google in favor of its own search technology.

Were going to compete partly because our search technology is different and the results we get back are different. We look at the Web in a different way, we see it in a different way [and] our technology sees it in a different way. You need to have a search technology to compete.

When you look at the world today, you see a lot of search destinations. But a lot of those search destinations are built on the back of someone else … You look at the AOLs of the world and the Earthlinks and any of those ISPs that are having search. Everybody is building it around these three technologies, with the exception of MSN, which is realizing it cant risk not having its own.

The foundation starts at search ... Its the connection point. You cannot have a great search experience without the ability to do broad-based search, which is what index search or algorithmic [search] drives.

The second thing, as you look at the world of information delivery, is that people like to get at information in different ways. A lot of it depends not so much on the demographics you are, because I think this is almost demographic-neutral. One of the great things about search, going on a tangent for minute, is that search is a great equalizer.

You can have kids in Ghana who go to an Internet café, where the per capita income is a dollar per day for 85 percent of the population, and you can have this kind of access. So, search itself is a great thing and a great business.

Next Page: How to give searchers what they want.