Ask Jeeves improves query suggestion functionality

Ask Jeeves is improving its search engine's ability to provide direct answers to queries and to suggest alternative Web searches.

Ask Jeeves' search engine can make better suggestions to users for narrowing or expanding the scope of a Web search, the company plans to announce on Thursday.

The search engine has also gained an increased ability to provide specific answers to queries, an improvement that will also debut on Thursday, according to Ask Jeeves officials.

Ask Jeeves has had these two features, but now both have been significantly improved, the officials said. "These two new products we're introducing are about enhancing the core search experience," said Rahul Lahiri, the company's vice president of search product management.

Along with its search results, Ask Jeeves has traditionally also returned a list labeled "related topics," which are contextually related alternatives to the search query entered by the user. The point of providing these alternatives is to help the user refine the original query and hopefully generate search results that are more relevant.

Now Ask Jeeves has improved this feature so that the search engine can better understand the various concepts related to a query and thus generate more and smarter suggestions. Users will also notice that instead of a single list of related topics, alternatives will now be grouped into three categories: suggestions for narrowing the scope of the search, suggestions for expanding the scope of the search and related name suggestions.

"This is the next generation of our related search," Lahiri said. "It's a totally different approach to what we have now."

Meanwhile, Ask Jeeves is introducing new functionality called Web Answers, which lets the search engine mine billions of pages in its Web index to provide factual answers to queries that lend themselves to this type of reply.

Ask Jeeves has had a functionality for this purpose for years called Smart Search, which for certain queries pulls data from a limited amount of preselected online sources and presents it at the top of the results list.

"Web Answers is complementary to Smart Search, which is based on content relationships and partnerships we have struck for finding structured information on the Web to answer queries," said Ryan Masse, an Ask Jeeves product manager. "This new product augments that by going to all pages [in our index] and identifying direct answers."

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