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Ask Jeeves is in a class all to themselves, literally. As the only truly independent algorithmic search engine driving more than 5% of search traffic, Ask Jeeves is in a unique position. While they are not playing in the same league as the Big-Three (Google, Yahoo and MSN), they are competing on the same field. In order to compete with the Big-Three, Ask.Com has made several intelligent moves, the most recent being their entrance into the world of Desktop search and a filing with the Securities Exchange Commission that will allow them to raise about $400-Million through a special “shelf” stock issuance.

Desktop Search Function

Earlier today, Ask.Com announced the acquisition of San Jose based start-up Tukaroo. In January of this year, Tukaroo released a desktop based search function that can find information stored on a computer hard-drive, a corporate Intranet, a Local Area Network, or the Internet in milliseconds. The acquisition is obviously aimed to compete with Microsoft’s pending O/S “Longhorn” and Google’s soon to be released desktop search application known as “Puffin”.

In a January article(Link no longer active) published in the science journal RedNova, Tukaroo’s VP of Marketing, Douglas Cheline claimed, “This novel software from Tukaroo will revolutionize the way user’s access information in the digital world. The world of hard drives, local area networks, and the Internet!” While Mr. Cheline may be over-optimistic in his assessment of how Tukaroo software will alter the habits of searchers, the software will effect the habits of Ask Jeeves users and may provide a stepping-stone into the realm of the Big-Three.

Tukaroo is said to have features that emulate different aspects of Google, Yahoo and MSN’s services. The most interesting of these services, (aside from the elimination of browser-based searching), is a contextual-advertising concept called “Smart-Ads(tm)”. With this feature, Ask Jeeves users will be served information on unique products and services based on the keyword phrase entered in the search window. Another interesting feature is the ability to structure results dynamically, basically allowing searchers to dictate how relevant information is displayed when searches are conducted.

This purchase gives Ask Jeeves a leg-up on their competition. Microsoft is said to be at least 18-months away from the Longhorn release date and Google has not yet released its beta version of Puffin. Yahoo has recently signed a deal with email application provider Plaxo that will assist in keyword searching one’s emails however, Plaxo’s application is dependant on an email program and does not put Yahoo search on a computer’s desktop. Of all the major search engines, Ask Jeeves may be the first to offer a fully functional desktop based search feature.

Taking Stock in Jeeves

In another move this week, Ask.Com filed a Form S-3 with the SEC which will allow them to raise approximately $400-Million though a public offering of its common stock, preferred stock, depositary shares, debt securities and warrants. According to the text of the filing, Ask.Com will use the money, “…for general corporate purposes, working capital and capital expenditures. We may also use the proceeds to fund acquisitions of technologies or businesses or to obtain the right to use additional technologies. However, we currently have no commitments or agreements for any specific acquisitions or investments. We may also use the proceeds to purchase or redeem our outstanding securities.”

In other words, Ask Jeeves is committed to competing with the Big-Three in the search engine market. With these two recent moves, Ask Jeeves appears to be in a better “actual” position than its larger rivals. It is independent and has been flying (for the most part), under the radar for several years. Ask Jeeves is one of the best-branded search tools with the P. J. Wodehouse butler, Jeeves quietly resurfacing from his retirement in the past few months. Lastly and most importantly, when it came time to roll-out innovation in order to keep up with the direction the industry appears to be heading, Ask Jeeves is most likely going to get there first. With a bit of luck, the Big-Three may have to admit a fourth property to their exclusive club. This time, the butler won’t be using the servant’s entrance.