Internet Buzz with Richard Wiggins | 24 | WebReference

Internet Buzz with Richard Wiggins | 24


EXTRA!!! October 10, 1998 Internet Buzz main page



East Lansing, Michigan
EXCLUSIVE EXTRA! AltaVista Forms AskJeeves Alliance

By Richard Wiggins

I

f you're one of the 30 million or so folks who typed a query into AltaVista today, you noticed a difference in its behavior. As of October 8, in response to most queries, AltaVista now offers you a direct link to hand-picked sites that may answer a specific question, before giving you the traditional linear hit list.

How can a traditional spider such as AltaVista become so smart? It's easy: Compaq/AltaVista has forged an alliance with the folks who bring you AskJeeves. A source familiar with the terms informs me that AskJeeves has entered into a non-exclusive licensing arrangement with AltaVista, under which AltaVista funnels every search query entered by every user into the Jeeves database before running the query against its own full-text index of the Web.

Sample AltaVista/Jeeves Search

With the Jeeves partnership, the look of the AltaVista interface has been updated a bit. The site now prominently suggests to users that they enter their queries in the form of a question, such as:

  • Where can I find information about musicians?
  • Where can I find personal ads?
  • Where can I find a history of the country Mexico?

The Jeeves deal continues the trend of major search engines supplementing the traditional search-and-browse-the-hit-list model with browsing views and specialized handling of user queries. The Jeeves knowledge base contains some 2,000,000 questions for which answers appear on a chosen public Web site. AskJeeves attempts to match user queries in natural language against this database of questions. From there, the user picks the correct question, and is taken to the Web site that provides the answer. The database of questions is built by a team of researchers employed by AskJeeves.

For AltaVista, the deal means that the search service becomes much more useful for the kinds of real-world queries typed by real users. The very completeness of the AltaVista database – said to hold 150 million pages and growing -- has also been its downfall in terms of utility. Any common query is likely to yield 500,000 or a million hits instead of the answer to the user's actual information needs.

Previously, AltaVista had struck a similar arrangement with RealNames.com, so that AltaVista users can quickly locate registered pages corresponding to familiar brand names. The two specialty indexes complement each other, with Jeeves providing answers to commonly-asked questions, and RealNames providing quick paths to company and product information.

For AskJeeves, the deal increases the number of daily Jeeves users by a factor of 100. With about 250,000 queries per day at aj.com – in comparison to 25 to 30 million per day at AltaVista – the deal transforms Jeeves from a specialty player to part of the top tier of search services.

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Created: October 10, 1998
Revised: October 10, 1998

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