I Say, Jeeves, Serve Me Up Some Answers
By Carlo Longino, Tue Jan 25 00:15:00 GMT 2005

Ask Jeeves says it will join the growing ranks of Web search firms with plans to launch a mobile service, but there are signs the company's got a good understanding of mobile search.

Ask Jeeves realizes to be taken seriously as a player in search, it's got to have a mobile product. But, more importantly, it realizes the different needs of users on a mobile device than at a desktop machine. IDC reports an Ask Jeeves VP saying the company "will focus on providing very specific information to queries and not try to replicate the conventional Web searching experience, given the nature of wireless communications and devices," which sounds to be based on the realization that people need different types of information when they're mobile -- that people want answers, not links to page that might have answers.

There's a market for mobile answers. 2,000 people a day in the UK are paying a pound to get answers from Any Question Answered, an SMS service, that among other things, is hurting the venerable British pub quiz. Google's SMS service has made some steps down the right path, as have some other search offerings, but still comes back with direct answers for a relatively few types of information, many of which can be usurped by specialized content providers offering search tools that can be used on a mobile, like Citysearch's e-mail interface. But other providers still think mobile search simply means a WAP interface.

The breadth of Google's searches and the quality of its results have made it vastly more popular than Ask Jeeves on the wired net. But the natural-language interface Ask Jeeves offers could give it a leg up in mobile, if it can deliver answers to questions like "How late is ABC dry cleaners open today?" accurately, rather than forcing users to try to hunt down the information through Google results and links. Of course, Ask Jeeves' Web search currently only delivers links to pages that might answer the questions users ask, so there's still a lot of work to be done. And, there's always other input possibilities than just text, too.