Ask Jeeves Expands Related Searches, Seeks Answers

Focusing on its core search engine, the company adds one feature for narrowing and widening searches and another for plucking answers from billions of Web pages.

In a bid to distinguish itself from its larger search competitors, Ask Jeeves is tapping into its core search technology to present more-detailed related searches and to answer questions.

The Oakland, Calif., company plans to announce the two new features Thursday as a way to improve search navigation and the relevancy of results.

The first feature, called Zoom, expands Ask Jeeves Inc.s related search options, while the another feature, called Web Answers, extracts facts from unstructured Web data to answer queries.

Zoom is a refined version of an earlier prototype that company officials had demonstrated in March. Along with providing a list of refined search query terms alongside results, it has two other categories for expanding the query or honing on a related name.

Zooms suggestions are based on the clustering technology in Ask Jeeves Teoma engine and Teomas analysis of communities on the Web, said Daniel Read, the companys vice president of product management.

"Theres a fundamental difference with this technology and anything else on the Web," Read said. "All other clustering technologies out there are actually based on associating keywords and are text-based, but this is community-based relevance."

For now, Zooms related searches are limited to Web results, though Ask Jeeves plans to eventually extend the feature to such vertical search services as image search, Read said. The company also is looking at ways to integrate it with the MyJeeves personalized search service.

Clustering and query refinement have gained the attention of both search startups and the larger engines. Startup Vivisimo Inc. has put clustering into action in its Clusty search site and as part of the revamped America Online Inc. search.

Yahoo also provides related searches in results, while Google and Microsoft Research have demonstrated research into clustered results.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read about the implications of IAC/InterActiveCorps recent acquisition of Ask Jeeves.

With Web Answers, Ask Jeeves is returning to its roots. Back in the 1990s, the search engine was known for its focus on returning results based on questions.

Web Answers, though, doesnt require a user to type a query as a question. Instead, it also can recognize keyword strings that appear to be seeking facts or answers, Read said.

For example, typing the query "largest lake in the world" would return the answer "Caspian Sea," excerpted from the text of a Web page.

The feature extracts its answers from the billions of Web pages in the Teoma index. It mines unstructured data on sites to return an answer as the top organic search results.

Web Answers results include highlighted information related to a query. They also let a user click to the source page or view additional answer extractions from other Web pages.

"It allows you to get more direct answers from Web, and when there is ambiguity in answers to questions, it allows you to see those different opinions and make your own mind up," Read said.

Ask Jeeves already offers what it calls "Smart Search" results, which return structured data about such topics as movies, weather and sports scores in a box above Web search results.

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