Ask Jeeves Refreshes Teoma

Ask Jeeves on Tuesday unveiled the second version of its Teoma search engine, boasting a variety of improvements that the company hopes will set its community-based search apart from entrenched competitors like Google.

Teoma 2.0, the first update to the two-year-old search engine, was designed with improved search relevance, new spell-checking capabilities, more search-refinement options, and a much bigger index of Web pages.

“What’s exciting for us is it’s validating the premise” of Teoma, said Paul Gardi, the search engine’s general manager. “Teoma has really grown up from when we got started.”

Emeryville, Calif.-based Ask Jeeves bought the fledgling search technology in September 2001, after team of computer scientists developed it at Rutgers University. In April 2002, the company launched Teoma, which is Gallic for “guide.” The search engine was hyped as an alternative to Google because of its unique approach, which groups results into categories to identify “expert” resources and offers suggestions for refining searches.

With its search results featured on Ask Jeeves’ Ask.com and Ask.co.uk, as well as on Excite InfoSpace and HotBot, the company boasts it is the third most widely used search technology, trailing only Google and Inktomi.

“The key to truly understanding a structure like the Web is to get down to the level of community and then look for the experts,” Gardi said.

Gardi said Teoma 2.0 has strengthened its communities by looking at more information to identify quality communities and provide searchers with better relevance.

“Communities are the essence of why we’re different and why we can deliver better relevance,” he said.

In addition, Teoma 2.0 has a spell-checking feature that identifies misspellings and offers suggested corrections. Also, the search engine offers Web page descriptions to help searchers assess their relevance. Finally, the search engine has advanced search tools that enable a user to refine a query with specific criteria, such as page location or geographic region. Teoma 2.0 searches can be done in 10 languages.

Gardi said Ask Jeeves had seen a lower abandonment rate since adding Teoma. In the last quarter, Ask Jeeves site abandonment dropped 28 percent and the user pick-rate (the number of times a user picks a search result) increased 22 percent.

Teoma faces an uphill battle in the search industry, with a lower-profile name and a significantly smaller index. Google has ruled the roost for some time, while Yahoo showed its commitment to search through its recent $235 million acquisition of Inktomi. The move by Yahoo led Forrester Research’s Charlene Li to say that Teoma could be an attractive acquisition target for another large portal, such as AOL or MSN.

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