Ask Jeeves offers challenge to Google

Teoma.com, a new search engine that went live Monday, should provide a boost to parent company Ask Jeeves Inc. and could provide a serious challenger to Google Inc.'s dominance of the market, according to analysts.

Teoma (pronounced tay-o-ma), which uses a different search method from Google, will give users a different feel in terms of results but a similar feel in terms of aesthetics, said Rob Lancaster, a senior analyst at Boston-based Yankee Group. Teoma uses the same simple opening page style that Google uses but goes about gathering information in a different way.

There is a lot more categorization in Teoma's approach, Lancaster said. Google returns queries weighted by what other users clicked on when making similar inquiries. Every time a user searches for a topic on Google, the search engine rates the results, which has an effect on the outcome of future searches. For instance, none of the top five results for a search of the word "seals" has anything to do with the sea-going mammals. Whereas, Teoma will augment search results with several broader categories, include "harbor seals" Easter seals, Navy SEALs and seals and gaskets.

"Google blasts you with the answers it thinks are most relevant," Lancaster said.

Teoma, however, will return categories of search results, said Danny Sullivan, editor of SearchEngineWatch.com, an online magazine/newsletter that follows the industry. What this means, Sullivan said, is that if you were to search for "Afghanistan" on Teoma, you might get back results ordered in categories such as, human rights, Asia or war.

"Those features might be very nice or might be very confusing depending on the person doing the searching," Sullivan said.

Those features also could be heralded as benefits or drawbacks depending on what company is promoting them, Lancaster said. "Google folks will pick holes in the Teoma strategy and vice versa," Lancaster said. "But ultimate it is for the user to decide."

Both Sullivan and Lancaster said there is room in the market for another search engine and that the move will help search engine Ask Jeeves, which acquired Teoma in September. Sullivan said Ask Jeeves had been on track to develop its own search technology and managed to skip out on the development costs and time by buying Teoma from its original developers.

The addition of Teoma will help Ask Jeeves from a business point of view, Lancaster said. "Ask Jeeves has been a struggling company for the recent past so this is certainly a boost for them," Lancaster said.

Sullivan said he expects to see Teoma get a boost because it is the "latest and greatest" technology and it's being launched with a certain amount of buzz. But he said it will have to go a long way to topple Google's "almost Microsoft-like" domination of the search engine scene.

"It could be that Google will stumble and make mistakes like AltaVista did that allowed Google to climb on top, but I doubt it," Sullivan said.

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