Jeeves may be gone, but according to Ask.com, he’s anything but forgotten.
Ask.com, which has tried with scant success to morph itself into a search engine on par with those of Google and Microsoft, is unveiling a new version of its Web site that delivers questions to answers, rather than traditional search results.
The site, which will be introduced in a limited test version on Tuesday, is a throwback to the company’s origins, when its mascot was a dapper butler who fetched answers to questions posed by users. A few years ago, the company phased Jeeves out on its site in the United States (he later had a revival in Britain), and began to emphasize more traditional search functions based around key words and phrases.
“But people never stopped coming to us with their questions,” said Doug Leeds, the president of the company. “We started out that way and that’s what people remember.”
To build out its new Q. & A. engine, the company says it spent the last year refining algorithms and trawling Web sites like Yahoo Answers and ChaCha to index more than 500 million questions and answers.
If a question isn’t in the database, users can pose it to the Ask.com community, which Mr. Leeds says numbers close to 90 million monthly users.
“That content might not be published yet but it exists in someone’s head,” he said. “Instead of looking for relevance, we’re looking for answers.”
In recent months, question-and-answer start-ups like Aardvark, which was acquired by Google, and Quora, which recently raised $14 million in venture financing, have led a new generation of search services that zero in on specific questions rather than search terms.
Mr. Leeds said that the new interest in questions comes from the evolving needs of people who do not want to spend a significant amount of time searching on the Web.
“There are still some things that Google doesn’t do very well,” he said. “They are just trying to get you in the neighborhood of an answer. We want to deliver that answer.”
Mr. Leeds said he hoped that Ask.com’s legacy would help give it an edge over rivals.
“Google is a verb,” he said. “But don’t forget that ‘ask’ is a verb too.”