As it prepares its new Ask.jp Japanese search service for an official debut, Ask Jeeves hopes to leverage a number of distribution deals with its venture partner, transcosmos.
Ask Jeeves Japan is jointly held between Ask Jeeves and transcosmos, a consulting firm and holding company based in Tokyo. The new company hopes to offer competition to Google and Yahoo, which provide the dominant search technologies in the country.
Transcosmos is a shareholder in a number of other Japanese plays by successful U.S.-based companies, including DoubleClick, AtomShockwave and Nielsen//NetRatings. Ask Jeeves hopes to leverage transcosmos' relationships to advance its brand and search technology in the country. Several deals are in the works, but none have been announced yet.
"We'll be leveraging our brand with the distribution partnerships that transcosmos is bringing to the table," said Jim Lanzone, Ask Jeeves' VP of product management and representative on the joint venture's board. "Despite being late to the game by a couple years, we see a real opportunity in Japan."
Ask.jp is now in a beta testing phase, during which the company plans to collect feedback from users before rolling out the official site early in 2005. The search destination marks only the second international expansion for Ask Jeeves, and the first since the company rolled out a search offering in the U.K. in 2000.
Lanzone said further international expansion is now in the works.
"Near to mid-term, you'll see us launching in Asia and Europe. When we do so, we're not going to do it capriciously. We're going to build country specific search indexes... There's a significant lack of choice in many marketplaces," he said.
As with Ask Jeeves' U.S. and U.K. properties, the Japanese engine uses the company's proprietary Teoma search technology. Its Japanese-only index now contains approximately 150 million Web pages. Ask.jp does not yet offer Ask Jeeves' trademark "smart search" shortcuts or other special features, such as the "look ahead" graphical preview tool introduced this year. Those will be added during the lead up to the official launch, Lanzone said.
Japan has approximately 77 million Internet users, placing it second in global Internet use behind the U.S., according to the country's ministry of public management, home affairs, posts and telecommunications.
Jupiter Research recently found search engine adoption in the U.S. will slow over the next several years, likely making international expansion a priority for the mega-players in search.
But Lanzone doesn't believe the U.S. market is facing atrophy, and he said Ask Jeeves isn't seriously concerned about diminishing search uptake here. He argued twin forces will continue to increase the size of the domestic search market: first, pricing pressure will drive up keyword bids, and second, existing users will steadily up their use of search as they become better at it.
"Search volume will continue to go up, as people get more confident in their ability to search," he said. "We're at the beginning, not the end of something."
Rather than responding to the threat of a shrinking market, Lanzone said Ask Jeeves is expanding because it's the right time for the company to do so.
"International expansion is going to be an important part of our growth," he said. "This is more about it being the right time in our life cycle than it is about market [dynamics]."
The new venture is led by Hirotaka Shiokawa, a transcosmos exec who will serve Ask Jeeves Japan as president and CEO.
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