Ask Jeeves: The Second Coming?

The biggest challenge for the search engine and Internet services company is to get people to understand it's no longer just a "question-and-answer product," Ask Jeeves' top executive says.

SAN JOSE, Calif.—Left for dead by the search engine establishment and recently bailed out to the tune of almost $2 billion, Ask Jeeves is once again looking for some respect. And that means market share, according to the companys top executive.

At Jupitermedias Search Engines Strategies Conference and Expo here, Ask Jeeves Inc. CEO Steve Berkowitz on Tuesday responded to questions about the companys prospects.

He painted a rosy picture of life at the "fourth network" of online search, offered general hints at the direction his company will take and confirmed the companys commitment to user privacy.

"Ask Jeeves was a company left for dead," Berkowitz remarked in the interview-style keynote with editor Danny Sullivan, recalling the lean years that saw the company downsizing on a regular basis. "Now, we have a single focus: How do we grow market share."

In his talk, Berkowitz prefaced mentions of company technologies with intensifiers such as "exciting," "amazing" or "terrific."

At the same time, he declined to talk about the specifics of new search features, such as Ask.coms Zoom, in favor of discussing marketing opportunities.

Zoom provides a list of refined search terms alongside results, and offers other categories for expanding the query or honing on a related name.

"We know our technology is awesome," Berkowitz said, "but our biggest challenge is to get people to understand were not a question-and-answer product," as Ask Jeeves was heavily marketed during the dot-com boom years.

"We are the best place for core search," Berkowitz said.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read more about Ask Jeeves related-search technology.

Ask Jeeves, which for a time languished among the search engine also-rans, was acquired in March by Barry Dillers IAC/InterActiveCorp.

The $1.85 billion deal, which also included products previously acquired by Ask Jeeves such as Excite and Bloglines, raised the combined Ask Jeeves properties to rank as the seventh-largest "global Web property," the company said.

Sullivan asked Berkowitz about previously announced plans to re-examine the name.

Berkowitz declined to say whether this will be changed, but said that the company was studying the choice.

"We want to have the right essence of the brand," he said. "Were looking at evolution and revolution—youll likely see evolution, because we dont need revolution."

"Youll see a renewed commitment to a business-like focus" at the company, Berkowitz said.

With a focus on the businesss core, which he did not define, Berkowitz said Ask Jeeves can then develop consumer products such as Smiley Central. "People love that," Berkowitz said.

As for other companies in the Ask Jeeves orbit, Berkowitz said of Excite that "weve got to figure that out—can we compete? Should we compete?"

Berkowitz also pointed to iWon, a Web site that trades sweepstakes entries for personal information and clicks, as "an Ask-like brand."

He called it a "sweepstakes platform" that "can become a real piece of glue in the IAC family."

Addressing a question on how Ask Jeeves could integrate its properties with those of IAC, such as HSN, LendingTree and, Berkowitz said that iWon could be used for promotional opportunities that would "tie together the LendingTrees and Match.coms of the world."

/zimages/1/28571.gifAnalysts ponder the Ask Jeeves acquisition. Click here to read more.

However, this response raised from Sullivan a question relating back to the "bad old days" of the late 1990s, when Web sites dubbed "portals" locked viewers into only sponsored links.

The purchase by IAC "doesnt mean we wont leverage cross-promotion," said Berkowitz, "but that doesnt mean there will be a walled garden" that prevents users from reaching non-IAC or non-Ask Jeeves Web sites.

Companies may place Ask Jeeves search boxes on IAC sites such as Ticketmaster and Citysearch, but, Berkowitz said, "Barry Diller [the owner of IAC] says that you can bring stuff together only if the customer wants."

Berkowitz also ruminated on how the market has changed. "Users need innovation around the core," which meant "pure search."

He said that Teoma, a search technology owned by Ask Jeeves, has evolved since its acquisition and that the My Jeeves feature is a "staircase" for consumers to further involve themselves into Ask Jeeves products.

Berkowitz concluded his sunny outlook by praising the level of technical innovation he saw. "This industry is the leader in innovation."

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