Ask to Retire Jeeves Character This Month
The BBC is running a story today which says that Ask Jeeves is planning to drop the Jeeves character this month (probably at Search Engine Strategies New York) and rebrand as Ask.com. After IAC acquired Ask Jeeves last year, the decision to Axe Jeeves was made soon afterward.
Although Jeeves may seem a bit childish and Web 1.0 (whatever that means) for some search engine users, Jeeves did serve as a differentiation point between Ask and other search engine companies in the late 1990′s and the Jeeves character helped to define the Ask question answering technology.
Additionally, Jeeves added to Ask’s appeal to the youth and education markets. A former Jeeves employee at the Save Jeeves Blog writes:
The other area in which Jeeves execs have been chronically short-sighted has been the value of Jeeves persona to kids. Early on in the dotcom era, with very little work and remarkably little content, Ask Jeeves Kids enjoyed an unbelievably strong following amongst children and parents and teachers (read: the backbone of our society). Sadly, due to the difficulty of “monetizing” Ask Jeeves Kids traffic, the site was neglected and ignored… with people being systematically cut from the project until there was literally nobody left to update it.
Despite this, the site still gets a decent amount of traffic for something that – at least at the time of my departure from the company – had zero investment from the company. A golden opportunity to impress a very strong brand upon an entire generation of kids, in a useful and informative way, wasted – because Jeeves couldn’t immediately turn a buck.
Rebranding of Ask to Include Focus on Technology & Offerings?
Hopefully, the update will include more than rebranding the US based version of the service to Ask.com. In Japan, Ask has pushed the envelope in integration of 2.0 oriented technology to the search engine; especially Bloglines and the ability to subscribe to blogs and feeds in the Ask search results. Adding ‘Subscribe via Bloglines’ to Ask and blog search in the States would find widespread acceptance in the US market.
Here’s a rundown of other innovative offerings which Ask has integrated over the years which has differentiated its new offering from the advertising sponsored links centered Ask Jeeves of two years ago:
* Teoma, Ask’s core search technology was social media when the other search engines were basing results via links and keywords. Teoma views the web as a social network, which deals with relevance differently than other search enignes, analyzing topics and communities online rather than site by site.
* Smart Answers : Users are satisfied by the program, providing a more experiencial search to Ask.
* Related topics to other topics: Zoom In, Zoom Out : Narrow Your Search, Expand Your Search, Related Names.
* Binoculars : preview of site before visiting, helping users judge the target site beofre actually visiting the site.
* Web Answer : Actually answers the question in the search query as #1 position, the original core offering of Ask Jeeves.
* MyAsk or MyJeeves : Ask was the first major search engine to roll out a personalized search service, lets the user build their own search index.
Is Jeeves Really Leaving Us?
So, if Jeeves is kicking so much Ask in the technology and search offering makeover market, why drop Jeeves now? I do think Ask.com is intelligent enough to appreciate the value of Jeeves, especially for the kids and education market mentioned before. Expect Jeeves to be taken off of the Ask.com flagship service, but his persona and mission to deliver quality and relevant information to still be alive in Ask for Kids and Libraries.
Ask is pumping up this division and has even hired Gary Price of Resource Shelf and former Search Engine Watch publisher to help with outreach to the library and education communities. Gary says that one of his core responsibilities will be “Working closely with leaders of both communities to make Ask Jeeves a product that librarians and educators can count on.”
Scandal in the Dropping of Jeeves?
Ever since ValleyWag entered the search news scene, the Gawker Media effect has rippled into the industry and added a spark to rumor & scandal. One theory of the Ask Jeeves rebranding to Ask.com is that Barry Diller of IAC is not too happy with him and Jeeves sharing the same features. If you do a comparison between the two, Jeeves is a spitting image of a cartoon Barry Diller.
For example, check out this side profile of Mr. Diller:
Now, this pic of Jeeves :
Hmmm. If people in and around IAC are calling Barry ” Mr. Jeeves” behind his back, the opportunity to bury Jeeves would be reason enough to purchase the search engine.
Despite the rebranding of Ask.com, expect more of the same quality offerings in IAC integration, less ads, image search and smart answers that Ask has been adding to its search service over the past 12 months.