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Thursday, March 4th, 2004

An Inside Glimpse of AskJeeves – An Interview with Jim Lanzone

 

Right now AskJeeves has a search engine that, in my opinion, is truly impressive. The natural language processing and wealth of quality information in their database has become so good that searching by query actually provides relevant results 90% of the time! This is a vast improvement over the original natural language system that Ask had in place just a year ago. When asked what made AskJeeves so different from its competitors, Jim answered decisively that it was Ask’s search technology that put it in a category all of its own. Why the technology? Well Jim argued that the intuitive query performance of the search and the system’s ability to reliably show only the experts in every field was Ask’s ‘secret sauce’. When I personally put this to the test I had to agree that at the very least the top results I found were relevant and spam-free… an impressive characteristic. What I must enter into consideration, however, is the considerable difference in database size in comparison to Ask’s competitors; Ask has only 2 billion pages, whereas Google claims a 6 billion count and Yahoo! over 4.5 billion. In this case size does matter… especially when you consider trying to filter twice to three times more content.

During my interview with Jim Lanzone, we discussed Ask’s current standing and where he expects the prominent search engine to appear within the next few years. Obviously Jim could not provide specifics on the technology they plan on including; however, I was able to garner some idea of the company’s vision:

  • Jim gave serious kudos to Google and Yahoo! for creating relationships with the ‘hidden web’; vast information resources once missed by the average search engine such as the Library of Congress, US Supreme Court Audio, the NPR, etc.. According to Jim these types of relationships are definitely going to play a role in future development at Ask. The problem is time, they plan on making some inroads this year but it will take a while before Ask can match the kind of advances that Yahoo or Google have made. This is especially true since Index Express was phased out; initially this was to be the model for uncovering the hidden web.
  • AskJeeves is very focused on providing a quality user experience. This is evidenced strongly by Ask’s current clean interface and Smart Search ideology that “search experience is as important as results themselves”. From what I could gather, Ask’s goal is to minimize the successful search experience to one click.
  • A fresher index was noted which indicates a strong desire to begin spidering web sites more frequently in the near future. Jim did not elaborate on this, however, I speculate that this means isolating web sites that are updated regularly and spidering them more often.
  • Currently the News section of AskJeeves is populated using Moreover; a popular and reliable news syndication resource. At the moment, Ask only minimally controls the results of its Moreover results with a basic algorithm. This is a major difference between AskJeeves and its search competitors Google and Yahoo!; Ask is the only engine without its own news spider! When asked, Jim noted that advances in Ask’s news asset will begin to take place in the second quarter of this year.

What else? At this point in the interview I encountered the familiar and completely understandable ‘wall of vague’; to quote Jim Lanzone, AskJeeves plans to “move into the different areas of search and apply our search engines to new areas of the web and make improvements to the methodologies that determine the relevance of the web.” Well said!


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