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Ask Jeeves Sharpens Its Focus

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Ask Jeeves announced today several new "Smart Search" shortcuts, along with a new page preview tool.

The shortcuts allow searchers to enter a trigger word and get a relevant answer, often from a high quality source directly at the top of the results list. If an answer isn't actually shown, then a link is general provided to specialized database.

"Smart Search is about providing the right information in the right place at the right time," said Jim Lanzone, vice-president of product management for Ask Jeeves. "We can match up with specialized databases on the fly. We're built to scale Smart Search with others people's data."

Smart Search shortcuts have been around at Ask Jeeves since April 2003, but the company has expanded the list with today's release. Here's the complete set:

  • Movies: Synopses, top links, average critics' review scores, and local show times for all new film releases, as with Shrek. See the past SearchDay article, Ask Jeeves Famous People Search, for more about this particular shortcut.
  • Wedding Registry: Access all wedding registry locations from Pottery Barn to Tiffany's for any bride and groom, as with this example
  • Fed Ex and UPS Tracking: Enter the tracking number
  • People Search: Find contact information for individuals across the United States, such as jack jones chicago illinois
  • Definitions: Quick explanations of meanings for words and acronyms, such as define unstable.
  • Navigation: Highlights the most-likely result for people looking for a specific site, such as with cnn.
  • Sports Teams: Links to scores and more for all U.S. sports franchises, such as los angeles dodgers.
  • Terror Alert: Real-time updates of the current terror alert level in the U.S. Just enter terror alert.
  • Current Events: Editorially-selected links for breaking news and current events, such as gas prices in 90210.

Shortcuts To Answer Engines

Shortcuts like those at Ask Jeeves were first introduced by AltaVista in 2002 and are now available from all of the major web search players.

At Yahoo, these are called Search Shortcuts. Google's internal name for its similar shortcut features is "one box results," as explained in this recent SearchDay article, Google Loses Tabs In New Look.

As Ask Jeeves, shortcuts may also appear even if trigger aren't entered. This is because Ask will interpret all queries and deliver the user a shortcut response if query logs and other metrics determine if Smart Search will be useful.

Smart Search and shortcuts from other companies are early examples of web search tools becoming "answer engines" as opposed to simply delivering offering the searcher a list of links to explore. The technology works best at this stage with factual types of queries.

For example, if a user searches pictures of san francisco or locomotive images on Ask Jeeves, the database will interpret the query and merge results from their image database into the results list. This is useful because for many users clicking on tabs and even knowing the a specialized database exists is often an issue.

Take a Peek With Binoculars

Today also marks the official launch of the Ask Jeeves Binoculars Site Preview tool, which utilizes technology that the company patented about a year ago. By simply hovering your cursor over a binocular icon next to each result link, a box containing a static image of the page appears above or below the result.

At the moment not every result contains a binocular icon. As the database of page images grows, nearly 100 percent of the top 10 search results will offer this feature.

According to Ask Jeeves, the binoculars feature reduced the number of results pages needing to be reviewed before finding the most relevant result by 50 percent.

Other search products offer similar preview features:

  • Alexa: Provides results from Google enhanced with static page images placed directly onto the results list.
  • Thumbshots: Provides images for their implementation of the Open Directory. They also provide page images for other sites including Search.com.
  • Vivisimo: Provides "preview" tool that allows the searcher to embed a live version (clickable) of the selected result directly into the results list.
  • Wisenut: Also offers this "live" page preview option.

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