Ask Jeeves Adds Search Tools

Ask Jeeves on Monday continued its drive to make its search more intuitive for users, adding to its “Smart Answers” set of tools that let people use natural-language queries to find everyday information.

Now, users can query Smart Answers to receive local weather reports, surf conditions and flight delays. In addition, users can enter in more than 100 numerical conversions, such as cups in a gallon or the value of Pi.

The new tools add to the Smart Answers that were rolled out in April. Those allow searchers direct responses providing such information as zip codes, capitals, country maps, and driving directions. The tools are part of Ask Jeeves’ Smart Search push, which looks at user behavior and preferences to add easy shortcuts. The company uses both its search technology and a team of editors to develop Smart Answers. For example, a search for the capital of Russia will yield an automated response that it is Moscow along with an editorially selected link to the CIA’s World Factbook for more information.

“These tools are a continuation of our strategy of delivering intuitive search features for users,” said Daniel Reid, director of product management at Ask Jeeves. “Often people are looking to accomplish certain tasks or find specific information.”

Reid said Smart Answers builds on Ask Jeeves’ natural-language search capabilities, allowing users more flexibility in their queries from other search engines.

“You almost have to read people’s minds,” he said. “People think search engines should be simple.”

Ask Jeeves efforts at catering to consumers’ desire for simplicity appears to have paid dividends. Last week, a consumer survey found that Ask Jeeves users were increasingly satisfied with their experience on the site, bringing its rankings closer in line to those of the Google, Yahoo and MSN.

Ask Jeeves CEO Skip Battle has pointed to the improvements of the search experience at Ask.com as the major driver of growth at Ask.com, which last quarter saw a 37 percent increase in search queries from the same period a year ago.

All the major search players see room for growth in the market by making search more intuitive. Google has rolled out a number of tools, including the recent addition of a calculator function. The search site already allowed users to type in a phone number to find a person’s name and address.

Perhaps the biggest push in this respect has come from Yahoo. Its new search, unveiled in April, adds a variety of shortcuts for searchers, such as local weather conditions or the nearest Blockbuster. Yahoo’s search chief Jeff Weiner last week told attendees at the Search Engine Strategies conference that the portal’s main strength in search was its ability to personalize the experience to give users what they want. (Jupitermedia, the parent company of this site, produced Search Engine Strategies.)

In a similar vein, MSN has set to work to build its own algorithmic search technology, citing its own research that finds searchers frequently can’t find what they seek.

Earlier this month, Ask Jeeves launched a nationwide ad campaign that trumpets Ask.com’s intuitive search experience.

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