September 20, 2004 9:00 PM PDT

Butler Jeeves gets 'extreme makeover'

Ask Jeeves has expanded its Web search services and given its hallmark butler a younger look.

The Emeryville, Calif.-based company said Tuesday it has developed My Jeeves, a personalized storage locker for Web surfers' search results. It's also built a site devoted to helping people find local businesses; improved its general Web search technology Teoma; and set the debut of its branded desktop-search application for late 2004.

Finally, Ask Jeeves has taken 20 or so years off the life of its Jeeves' butler--the P.G. Wodehouse character that's been the cornerstone of Ask Jeeves' brand for eight years, but has been absent from the site since last week.

"We thought we'd modernize him, now that the site is," said Jim Lanzone, senior vice president of search products at Ask Jeeves.

Despite the modernization, Ask Jeeves is mainly keeping up with the Joneses with most of its new products. Among the top five Web search engines, Ask Jeeves is vying against heavyweights Google and Yahoo to build the most state-of-the-art tools for navigating the Web--and reap the rewards of the multibillion-dollar advertising business tied to it.

Yahoo and Google are one step ahead of Ask Jeeves on recently expanded local search sites. And Google has a clear head start with its Deskbar application, which lets people navigate the Web without a browser. Yahoo has also said it would launch a desktop-search application.

Still, Ask Jeeves has taken the lead in offering Web surfers the ability to store, personalize and manage search results. With My Jeeves, people can save search results, file them into folders and add notes to particular Web pages--all without registering personal information. With registration, My Jeeves will password-protect the users' storage locker with search history, granting login and access from any PC. Also, registration grants the user unlimited storage of search history, whereas the anonymous version caps storage at 1,000 items.

Last week, Amazon.com's search unit A9 introduced a similar personalized service.

In local search, Ask Jeeves will unveil a new specialized site on Tuesday. Ask Jeeves' Local Listings service lets Web surfers type in a location (city, state or ZIP code) and business name to retrieve a list of nearby services, shops or points of interest, along with a map. The product is built on a deal with Interactive Corp.'s Citysearch, which agreed to license its local reviews and business information to Ask Jeeves in August.

By sprucing up Jeeves and the technology powering the site, the sum game is to improve Ask Jeeves' allure with audiences, Lanzone said. "For us, it's about (raising) the water level of searches, but that all starts with user satisfaction," Lanzone said.

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