Ask Jeeves Asks Direct Hit
From The Search Engine Report
Feb. 3, 2000
In a surprise move, but one that makes perfect sense, Ask Jeeves announced last week that it was acquiring Direct Hit in a $500 million stock deal.
Ask Jeeves' corporate answer service has been booming, with deals in place to help those searching within sites such as Iomega and Datek. Ask Jeeves editors build a database of answers to common questions for these sites, with great benefits to both visitors and the site owners themselves. (FYI, I'll be taking a closer look at the Ask Jeeves corporate solutions in a future article).
Still, Ask Jeeves had a problem. Its editors haven't answered everything, so it needed some type of automated backup for these occasions.
"We wanted to have an intelligent packaging of a Q&A database and automated agent," said Rob Wrubel, president and CEO of Ask Jeeves.
Enter Direct Hit. The company provides Ask Jeeves with an automated, crawler-based solution, with the added bonus of results that can be refined by measuring what users click on.
Meanwhile, Direct Hit gains a partnership that helps it diversify its business. The company's strength has been providing refined web-wide search results to various portals. But portals can be a fickle bunch. Tying in with Ask Jeeves allows Direct Hit to more easily be used within the corporate market -- nor do the two companies have to face off against each other, now.
As for web-wide solutions, Ask Jeeves plans to incorporate Direct Hit's results as backup to its own answers at the Ask Jeeves site, similar to how meta search results are provided today as backup. But those meta search results will also be retained. In a 1-2-3 format, a search will bring back first Ask Jeeves answers, then Direct Hit results, and then meta search results, all on the same page.
Meanwhile, expect to see Direct Hit continuing to pursue its strategy of partnering with portals. Additionally, it may either integrate Ask Jeeves answers into its results or take the lead in helping establishing new partnerships for Ask Jeeves with the major portals, similar to how Ask Jeeves provides some data to AltaVista.
"Direct Hit has built that business. It gives them incredible reach, and we will definitely continue that business," Wrubel said.
In fact, although Ask Jeeves has continued to grow as a top web site, Wrubel says he prefers to see the service work with the major portals rather than try to compete with them in offering the same features.
"It will be more like a personal services portal," Wrubal said, about how the Ask Jeeves site will evolve. "You'll start to see Jeeves do things for you, not just provide search, news and chat."
Such as? "You'll be able to get your laundry done with Jeeves," Wrubel said, offering one type of service. "You'll see us rolling out a set of services as if you had a butler living in your house. He'll be a very smart butler, helping you learn about something you didn't know about."
As for the traffic the Ask Jeeves site has gained, Wrubel chalks it up to a combination of good content and smart marketing. The company has gone from television ads, to a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, to recently placing questions on 15 million apples. Yes, apples.
"That was completely bizarre but great," Wrubal said. "When you would pick up the apples, it just provoked you. You couldn't help but say, 'I've got questions, I've got to go try this.'"
By the way, Ask Jeeves has done an excellent job in encouraging users to ask questions naturally. But you can and should do this on any of the major search engines. They can handle natural language questions, as well. The key reason why you may get better results at Ask Jeeves is because it has a database of responses compiled by humans, who are specifically looking at the most frequently asked questions and getting answers.
Nevertheless, you should find that if you tell any major search engine exactly what you want, using a natural and descriptive phrase, you'll get back better answers than by feeding it only one or two keywords.
Ask Jeeves' new personalized service.
Ask Jeeves UK
Ask Jeeves' new UK site, which has just launched.
Ask Jeeves in Deal to Expand Search
InternetNews.com, Jan. 25, 2000
Ask Jeeves to acquire Direct Hit for $506 million
News.com, Jan. 25, 2000
Ask Jeeves grapples with question of sex
News.com, Jan. 18, 2000
Is Ask Sex on its way? Ask Jeeves is considering options to serve up answers to adults on a separate site in response to sexually-related and pornographic queries.
If not Jeeves, then who?
BBC, Feb. 2, 2000
Ask Jeeves takes its name from P.G. Wodehouse's butler character. Now the late author's literary agents are apparently threatening legal action over the search service's use of the name. The article also has a humorous look at other characters that might be used.