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Ask Jeeves to unveil improvements

Where's the butler? Don't Ask

Ask Jeeves will today unleash its most aggressive attempt in years to increase usage of its search engine, rolling out a broad set of new and improved features and a drastic rebranding of the service.

None other than Barry Diller, chairman and chief executive officer of Ask Jeeves' parent company IAC/InterActiveCorp, will make the announcement during his keynote at the Search Engine Strategies Conference & Expo in New York.

The improvements include a redesigned home page that features different search services in what the company calls a "toolbox", to make these services more visible and easier to access. In addition to general web search, the toolbox contains shortcuts to image, weather, dictionary and local search, among others, said Daniel Read, Ask Jeeves' vice president of consumer products.

Also improved is the map search service, with a new and more agile Ajax-based interface. Users now can drag-and-drop pins on the map, include up to 10 locations on a route and get walking or driving directions.

The toolbox also contains a shortcut for desktop search, which allows users to interact with the Ask Jeeves desktop-search application via the browser window. Users need to download the free application first.

Users are able to modify the setup of the toolbox to a certain extent, and later Ask Jeeves will provide an API (application programming interface) to let external developers extend the toolbox's functionality, Read said. Future improvements include the integration of content and information from other IAC units into the search engine.

On the branding side, the search engine's name will be shortened to Ask.com, and the Jeeves butler cartoon will be retired.

The goal is to establish a difference between the Ask Jeeves of the late 1990s and early 2000s and the Ask.com of today, Read said. "This is the culmination of three years of intensive innovation and product launches," he said. "The new site brings together the tools and services developed over the past three years into one easy-to-use interface."

In its beginnings, Ask Jeeves requested that users pose their queries as regular questions, much different from what has become the most popular way of querying search engines, via short phrases or keywords.

The quality of Ask Jeeves' search results was eclipsed by the quality of Google's search engine, and Ask Jeeves progressively lost market share and its reputation suffered.

Despite the improvements of recent years, which analysts generally agree have been significant, Ask Jeeves has remained the least used among the largest search engines.

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