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Web Watch by Leslie Walker

AskJeeves's Butler Trying To Do It Better

By Mike Musgrove
The Washington Post
Sunday, September 26, 2004; Page F07

Remember AskJeeves?

The search engine (www.ask.com) made its fame toward the end of the last millennium by encouraging Web surfers to enter "natural language" questions, rather than search terms -- instead of entering "Johnny Cash" as a search term, for example, the site boasted that it could help you answer a question such as "Who is the man in black?"

But then the upstart Google came around, scored a better reputation for accurate results and quickly became the default search engine for many Web surfers. Today, AskJeeves has about 7 percent of the search market.

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AskJeeves has been working on a comeback, though. The latest tweak at the search site is a service that enables users to save site preferences when the search engine does its work. With a few post-search clicks, baseball junkies can conduct more specialized searches when they come back to the site. Limit searches for information about, say, "Jeter" to your preferred sports news sites, for example, and you'll no longer run into sites related to Jeter Systems Corp. of Akron, Ohio.

The search engine comes with a few other features designed to try to keep surfers around longer as well -- users can save, categorize into folders, annotate and share searches and Web site lists. A Local Listings option lets Web surfers type in a geographical location to retrieve maps or a list of nearby shops or points of interest.

The free service does not require registration.

"We view this as the first step in what will become your personal Web," said Jim Lanzone, senior vice president of search properties at Ask Jeeves Inc. Lanzone described the new features as making the search engine a "TiVo for the Web."

The search engine company has also given Jeeves, the cartoon butler who serves as the engine's mascot, a new look. The new mascot looks a little younger and tanner and has a little more hair on his noggin.

But he can still deliver up some oddball responses. Quizzed on the identity of the man in black Friday afternoon, AskJeeves turned up links to pages about Johnny Cash -- but such pages were slightly outnumbered by links to the Burning Man art festival.

Passing Along Music

The Web's latest music store, PassAlong.com, wants to make its customers its marketers. Its incentive program lets a PassAlong consumer e-mail his or her friends links to 30-second song samples; if 10 of these recipients buy a song each from PassAlong, the customer earns enough points for a free song from the site.

PassAlong carries about 200,000 songs, far fewer than other stores; the Franklin, Tenn., company said it has deals in place with major record labels to expand that library to 500,000 by the end of the month. To promote the launch, PassAlong is auctioning off two 15-minute phone interviews with Canadian rocker Avril Lavigne on eBay, where PassAlong also maintains a Web storefront. (PassAlong's site blocks non-Internet Explorer browsers, but its eBay store does not.)

www.passalong.comstores.ebay.com/Pass-Along

Firefox's Fast Start

The Mozilla Foundation, the organization behind the free Mozilla and Firefox Web browsers, announced this week that Web users had downloaded 1 million copies of a preview release of Firefox in the four days since its debut. Though Microsoft's Internet Explorer still dominates the browser market, Firefox (a simplified version of Mozilla) got a burst of new users this summer, partly as a result of freshly disclosed security holes in IE. A 1.0 version of Firefox should arrive this fall.

www.mozilla.org

Leslie Walker is away. E-mail Mike Musgrove at musgrovem@washpost.com.


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