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Jeeves Retires

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After nearly a decade of service, Jeeves is retiring from his duties at the search engine, which will assume the long used but little promoted name "Ask."

Jeeves was the brainchild of venture capitalist Garrett Gruener and technologist David Warthen. From the start, Jeeves was different than the other search services of the day.

The idea behind Jeeves was not to create yet another search engine or directory, but to offer a question-answering service—a virtual online concierge.

The domain was created on Wed, November 29th, 1995, shortly after AltaVista had its public launch. Yahoo, though popular, was still a small operation, hosted on servers provided by the web's major powerhouse of the time, Netscape.

Gruener and Warthen thought P.G. Wodehouse's butler character "Jeeves" embodied the idea of service they envisioned. Several artists submitted sketches, and the illustration created by Marcos Sorenson became the public face of Jeeves.

Ask Jeeves officially launched on April 7, and the company aggressively promoted the butler character, including floating the first Internet "character" as a Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade balloon. Here's a screen shot of the earliest incarnation of the service.

In a miss-step, the company neglected to ask Jeeves' creator for permission to use the likeness of the character. A.P. Watt, the literary agent responsible for Wodehouse's estate, had threatened legal action against Ask Jeeves. A settlement was reached in early 2000, though neither side disclosed details.

In 2004, Jeeves "went missing," and later it was revealed that he was on a "world tour." Upon return, the butler had transformed into a trimmer, slimmer character.

And on April 1 last year, the company unveiled the Jeeves 9000 robot, a futuristic model of the butler character.

But when IAC bought Ask Jeeves last year, the butler apparently was left out of the negotiations. In September, IAC Chairman Barry Diller told the that the butler was going to be sacked.

So now Jeeves is retiring. You can visit his official retirement site and cast your vote for his next career or send him best wishes. And don't forget to turn out the light when you leave. :-)

Want to discuss or comment on this story? Join the Goodbye Jeeves discussion in the Search Engine Watch forums.

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