Consumer online question and answer service Ask Jeeves will seek partnerships, but not acquisitions, to help it penetrate the European and Asian markets next year.
The company plans to translate its plain English question and answer service into other languages and tailor it for other countries. Ask Jeeves' chief executive, Rob Wrubel, said it was unlikely to acquire companies to bolster its foreign language knowledge base.
Earlier this year, Ask Jeeves customised its interactive natural language query technology specifically for companies, enabling them to load the database with information about their products.
It is now also developing the Ask Jeeves Answer Network service to pool information from different companies. For example, if a Dell customer asks a question that is really aimed at Microsoft, Dell can pull the answer from the software giant's database rather than referring its customer to Microsoft's home page.
Bellsouth, Compaq, eTrade, Toshiba, Hewlett Packard, American Express and Mypoints.com have said they plan to use the service, while Dell Computer already uses it, under the name Ask Dudley, on its Web support site.
Ask Jeeves follows the 80/20 rule, aiming to answer the 20 per cent of questions that most people ask 80 per cent of the time. As a result, it claims that, while it may not be able to handle as many questions as traditional search engines, it can answer them with greater precision.
The firm uses a proprietary natural language parsing process linked to a custom database of "question templates" and "answer links." The parsing software enables Ask Jeeves to understand the question's meaning by identifying the different parts of each question. It then determines how each word is used within the sentence.
Geoffrey Bock, an analyst for the Patricia Seybold Group, said: "The company is trying to solve specific user problems on the Web by making the search for information more active and more intuitive."
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