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February 28, 2006

Code Red Party Recap

As many of you know, yesterday was kind of a big day for us. We finally unveiled the new Ask.com and Barry Diller got a chance to articulate why our search engine is a relevant part of the search world in the keynote address at SES. (Those of you who missed the keynote can listen to it here.)

So what does any self-respecting company do after so much hard work? We partied.

Red Alert Party

The "Code Red" event, held at Club LQ in Manhattan, had a huge turnout and was worth the trip across town in freezing temperatures. It was definitely the most crowded dance floor we've ever seen at SES...at least where people were actually dancing. We also had flamethrowing, breakdancing Battlebots, video games and great food. Then about 2 hours into the event, Boba Fett showed up with a bunch of Stormtroopers and unveiled Jeeves - who was frozen in carbonite ala Han Solo in Empire Strikes Back. It was amazing. Then people danced around frozen Jeeves all night.

Here are more glimpses of the party, including some videos:


Video: Dancing Battlebots

Video: Carbonite Jeeves

Special thanks to Serin, Usha, Laurie & Annie for orchestrating such a wonderful celebration. And thanks everyone for coming!

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The New Ask.com Blasts Off


On Sunday night at around 8:15pm PST we officially launched the new Ask.com into orbit. As usual with these things, it's not without some bugs here and there, so we'll get right on those. But she's up there and she's a beaute.

The new Ask.com

Our press release is here for those of you who missed the news. Thanks to all of you who covered the launch yesterday, from news pubs to bloggers. We appreciate it.

We started work on the new site in earnest last Fall. Besides the coming rebrand as Ask.com, we took the opportunity to try to build a better foundation for many of the tools we've built over the past 3 or 4 years. That led us to several months of iterations and testing on what eventually became the "Toolbox" on the right side of the new homepage. Trust us, it may look simple but it didn't start out that way. :)

The Toolbox puts all of our search tools on "speed dial", as Jim was quoted saying in the AP article. We fell in love with its simple usability, as well as the Zen feeling you get from clicking through the different tools, watching the homepage transform seamlessly as you go. This solved two problems for us: 1) Educating our users more strongly about the existence of these tools; and 2) Integrating them in a way that was both easy to use and didn't add too much clutter. We also added the ability to customize it, open and close it, and drag and drop the ordering of it. In the future, we plan to open it up so you can add whatever tools you want. We also plan to take it to content, for example being able to see your RSS feeds on the left by clicking Reader on the right. (Right now the Bloglines link goes to your Bloglines MyFeeds page, if you are a registered user.)

In addition to the new homepage, we also launched new Maps, Encyclopedia, Kids, and Desktop search products yesterday. They are also described in the press release.

We are particularly proud of the Maps product. We feel that it is the best Maps product in the market for building an itinerary for a journey, through differentiated tools like draggable pushpins, right-click to add locations, the ability to add up to 10 locations, aerial photography views, an open/close slider, and the "Play" button. There are also some cool hotkey functions AND the opportunity to purchase photos of any aerial view by clicking "Get Photo". In the future we'll use Maps as a platform for many more products, such as our next rev on Local. Stay tuned.

The new Ask.com maps

One thing we didn't really change with this release was our results page. In fact the only real change we made was switching from Verdana to Arial font. (Bonus points for whoever actually noticed that!) Though we tested several changes, we kept coming back to the current page, which is already the most differentiated in the market through its integration of Smart Answers, Binoculars, and Zoom related search on nearly all queries, and through our lack of ads down the right side of the page.

An example of the new Ask.com results page

This is just the beginning for the new Ask. Please give it a try and let us know what you think.

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February 26, 2006

Another Brand Retirement of Note: Teoma

Another Brand Retirement

With all of the focus on our flagship brand changing, we wanted to point out another brand shift we'll be making soon: we are rolling the Teoma brand in to Ask, pointing the Teoma.com domain to http://search.ask.com.

As we've detailed before, when Teoma was acquired back in late 2001, it was a pioneering, 7-person shop that had developed some next-generation algorithms and a promising search engine. Since then, it has served as the heart of the technology underlying Ask Jeeves, and has been the foundation of our resurgence in search. The algorithm, one way we uniquely determine relevance, will be known as ExpertRank going forward.

We have exponentially grown the team, now known as the Ask Search Technology team, over the years. They are still located in central New Jersey, near Rutgers, where Teoma was founded. (Though some AST employees also work in our Campbell, CA office, as Matt Cutts and Microsoft's incessantly cold-calling recruiters also know.) So, the spirit of the original Teoma not only lives on, it is very much still a part of what we do.

At this point, the only feature on Teoma.com that is not on Ask.com is the "Resources", or hubs, pages. But given that this receives less than a 1% click-rate, we don't think many people will miss it, though Gary Price says it is popular in the librarian community...so we'll be sure to revisit that issue when we have time. But with the introduction of the new Ask, the time is finally right to make the move.

So to those of you who still visit the Teoma.com domain , we invite you to make the move with us (except for those scrapers/bots out there in Eastern Europe!). You'll find everything to be eerily familiar...

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Live from New York, It’s….

Special Thanks to the WebmasterRadio.FM folks who have offered to webcast and  podcast Barry Diller’s SES keynote address Monday.

SES in NYC 2006

The opening keynote will be broadcast live in a special edition of The Daily Search Cast with SES Chair Danny Sullivan this Monday at 9:00 a.m. EST.  Join the live broadcast by visiting http://www.WebmasterRadio.FM and clicking the Tune In button. You can also participate with Live Chat on the site.

For those of you who cannot join live, the event will be available in podcast format shortly after the keynote at: http://www.WebmasterRadio.fm/episodes/index.php?showId=27  

Listen to the keynote address

Thanks to Daron and Brandy and the entire WebmasterRadio.FM team.

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February 24, 2006

Bloglines Updates, Ahoy!

Check out Robyn's post over on Bloglines News.

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February 23, 2006

And Now, Our Feature Presentation…

There are some opportunities you can’t pass up.

Recently, through mutual friends, we met J.D. Ryznar, writer/director of one of 2005’s most popular online comedy shorts: Yacht Rock.

Watch: Yacht Rock

For the uninitiated, Yacht Rock is probably the most successful "series" to date over at Channel101.com, which showcases comedy shorts developed by everyone from J.D. to Saturday Night Live's Andy Samberg (check out "The 'Bu", an amazing parody of The O.C.) and features stars like Jack Black, Drew Carey, and Sarah Silverman. It has become somewhat of a showcase for young talent, with many of the writers, directors and actors of the shorts getting signed by major talent agencies. Channel101, along with sites like TheLonelyIsland.com, was a precursor to SNL's recent move into video shorts like Lettuce, Lazy Sunday, and Young Chuck Norris.

Channel101 also has a bit of a twist. Each month, a live screening is held in Hollywood where an audience votes on each video. The videos that receive enough votes are put into "Primetime", which means that more episodes are requested by Channel101 for production. Not enough votes, and a series is "Cancelled" and put into an archive for posterity. Yacht Rock is currently preparing its 7th installment for release this weekend.

With the pending retirement of Jeeves, we thought it would be cool to see if J.D. could come up with a funny idea for a comedy short about Jeeves’ departure.

He did. He really did. And heaven help us, we actually went ahead and had him write, direct, produce and star in it.

So with no further ado, we proudly present J.D.’s masterwork: Jeeves Leaves.

Watch: Jeeves Leaves

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February 22, 2006

SES Party Details

We've been getting a bunch of requests for details on our SES party on Monday.  They are listed below.

In short, everyone is invited (even Andrew Goodman).  Just bring your SES badge or business card for entry.  We'll have music and a dance floor for Danny to cut a rug, and other fun stuff, including Robot Wars, wall-projected video game competitions, and vintage arcade games.  Since this will also serve as Jeeves' retirement party, we'll have some Jeeves-related sideshows, of course.  He may even throw some back at the bar with you.

One thing to note:  Besides free drinks (of course), we'll have tons of great finger food and appetizers.
So feel free to come get free eats with us.   

When: Monday, February 27, 2006
Time: 7:00 pm - 11:00 pm
Location: Club LQ
Address: 511 Lexington Avenue, NYC

We look forward to seeing you there!

Serin Silva
Laurie Satler

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February 18, 2006

Thanks, Jeeves

Goodbye Jeeves

As many of you have heard by now, in the near future we'll be saying goodbye to our corporate icon of 10 years.

It's funny, when you consider that he's just a static drawing of a butler-ish figure on a website (and that he was very nearly a "wise owl" or a "wizard" rather than a butler), how much the Jeeves character has come to mean for people over the years.

On the one hand, there are people who take Jeeves very literally. They think of Jeeves as the guy behind their searches, a cartoon man giving them answers. Some simply like the character, and tie it closely to the writings of P.G. Wodehouse. Jeeves is what makes the site unique for these people, pure and simple.

On the other hand, there are people who reel back at the very notion of Jeeves, who think he signifies weak technology, slows down the site, and embodies over-commercialization and over promise. They would never use a site that had a butler on it.

The majority of people are ambivalent about the character. But even for these people, Jeeves means something -- a place to go to ask questions -- and in their minds it will be difficult to ever think of him as anything more. (And for those who haven't tried the Ask Jeeves since 1999 or 2000, it meant asking questions and not getting answers.) He was so well-branded during the late '90's and early 00's, he became part of pop culture, appearing everywhere from the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade to Arrested Development. Some even think of Jeeves as representative of the dot-com hype, like the Sock Puppet.

As we've said many times, and many of you have kindly said for us, the search engine today is leaps and bounds better than the old one. Not only are we solid on the basics, but we've also been one of the leading innovators in search. Beyond our differentiated algorithmic search, we have the most differentiated SERPs of the major engines, with Zoom related search, Binoculars, MyJeeves, and Smart Answers all integrated significantly into our pages. Heck, now we even have the fewest ads above the fold of the major engines. Per Keynote, this paid off with the most significant gains in search quality and brand perception between 2004 and 2005 among the major search engines. Per comScore, we’ve also had the largest percentage gains in market share year on year.

When it comes to our product, we're continuously evolving and improving. Our brand deserves a clean break to open people up to seeing how good we are.

So, we're going to take the leap and strike out for a fresh identity, one that fits more with who we've become than who we used to be. One that revolves more around the site, and what it does for our users, rather than around a character.

One thing that won't change with our new brand will be our focus on making search better for real people, from heavy searchers to new searchers. Our best innovations have been inspired by this approach to usability. How do people really search and what tools do they really need to be more effective?

In his purest form, this is what Jeeves always stood for, especially to those who worked here, from the founders onward. And no matter what you thought of him, 10 years is a respectable run. That sock puppet didn't even last two.

So even though you're just a cartoon butler, I want to say on behalf of the employees of Ask: Thanks Jeeves. Enjoy your retirement. Maybe we'll offer skins of the site sometime and you can moonlight as people's butler once again.

Jim Lanzone

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February 15, 2006

A Visitor Among Us

Matt Cutts had a funny post recently about his random sidetrip to photograph our Campbell office. Pulling off the freeway, looking up the address of someone's satellite development office, and taking photos of the premises during non-business hours is something everyone does from time to time. Especially after eating chicken at Left at Albuquerque for breakfast.

That is why we've equipped the cardboard Jeeves behind reception in the Campbell office with advanced technology that keeps a record of such visitors.

Caught on Tape!

If you feel like you're being watched, you probably are....

Security Detail - Campbell Office

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February 10, 2006

Learning Tower of Pisa

As many of you have seen, last week we launched Ask Jeeves' first European R&D Center in Pisa, Italy, for technology research. We are very excited to bring the best and brightest of Europe to our office here in Tuscany to build the world's next great search technologies. It is an excellent environment for creativity.

Apostolos Gerasoulis

This week, the IT department at Pisa University held the ANAW conference for which many important people from the IT world were present, including Apostolos Gerasoulis, Ask Jeeves' EVP of Search Technology in the USA. Since this conference coincided with the opening of our European hub in Pisa, Ask Jeeves invited some conference participants to a dinner and celebration.

Celebration   Celebration

This event took place on Monday evening at a lovely traditional local hotel and about 80 people participated. We all had fantastic Tuscan food and everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves. We think that the new research center will fuel further development of useful and innovative search products for our users.

Antonio Gulli

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