Ask Jeeves Offers New Answers

Ask Jeeves has enhanced its search engine to give users the ability to preview images of Web sites listed in search results, a feature the company says will make it easier and faster for users to find the information they are looking for.

Ask Jeeves has also extended its Smart Search capability, which is designed to intuitively determine what information users are looking for and package data and relevant links into a rectangular box placed above the conventional list of Web sites.

For example, if a user enters the term "Troy" into the main search page, Ask Jeeves returns a Smart Search box with information about the recently released movie, "Troy." Information packaged into the box includes the year of release (2004), the Motion Picture Association of America rating (R), and the percentage of favorable reviews it has received. The box also includes links to external Web sites that offer reviews, a plot synopsis, and a trailer. The box also has a section for a user to enter a zip code to get local showing times.

As Ask Jeeves continues to enhance its search engine, it must let users know that it has significantly improved its functionality compared with four or five years ago, when it disappointed many users by providing irrelevant results, says Gary Price, a librarian and editor of ResourceShelf.com, an online newsletter devoted to Internet search.

"This is not the same old Ask Jeeves. Its product is of much higher quality than back in 1999 and 2000, but they must convince people of this," Price says.

Sneak Preview

The preview-image feature, called Binoculars, will pop up a snapshot of a listed page when the user places the cursor over a binoculars icon included with a query result, says Jim Lanzone, Ask Jeeves' senior vice president of search properties.

The pop-up image isn't supposed to let users read everything on that Web page, but rather to be a graphical complement to the listing data, to give users more information to decide whether they want to visit that Web page or not, he says.

For example, through the snapshot, the user may find out that particular Web page is offline or created by an amateur, saving the user from having to visit that page and come back to the results list, he says.

The Binoculars feature is currently optimized for computer screens with a resolution of 800 by 600, which covers about half of PC users, Lanzone says. On such a screen, the snapshot takes up 25 percent of the browser window, he says. The company will continue to develop this feature so that the snapshot can be larger without sacrificing speed, he says.

The Smart Search capability, based on a combination of the company's Teoma search, natural language, and structured-data search technologies, is being extended with new features also announced Monday, including the following categories: movies, wedding registries, tracking numbers for Federal Express and UPS packages, people search, word definitions, and sports teams.

The Ask Jeeves Smart Search technology works very well for certain types of queries, ResourceShelf.com's Price says. "I'm very positive about it. It's a good idea to make search engines be more of answer engines, because they reduce the time and aggravation for users and get them quality answers," Price says.

The concept of providing shortcuts to Internet data isn't new, but Ask Jeeves is doing a good job of developing it, he says.

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