Ask Jeeves beefs up product search

Internet search service provider Ask Jeeves Inc. is beefing up its product search capabilities for the busy holiday shopping season.

Ask Jeeves' Ask.com site already has a specific section for conducting product searches, but on Tuesday the company is announcing that the site will serve up product information when users run queries from its main search page as well.

The company decided to extend its product search capabilities to the main search page after surveys revealed many users conduct product information searches from general search engines as opposed to comparison shopping sites, said Cathie Smithers, Ask.com's senior product manager. This way, Ask Jeeves expects to better serve users who search for product information from its main search page and don't run the query directly from its product search page.

The new Smart Search for Products technology intuitively detects when a user is searching for product information and delivers shopping information, such as Web pages containing reviews, lists of features, stores and price comparisons, according to the company. The user can refine the search results by using a drop-down menu to select links only leading to product reviews or to product features, for example. The search engine also provides options for fine-tuning the results through clarification tools, which give suggestions to the user to, for example, narrow the search.

A search for "digital cameras" yields not only a list of Web sites but also the ability to sort those results by product reviews, product features, product prices and online stores. Ask.com also suggests ways to narrow the search by offering related categories such as cameras, lenses and accessories and batteries, as well as by suggesting related keyword searches such as photography and camera reviews.

Users interested in getting a list of products with prices can still go to the existing product search page, which provides a comparison shopping experience but lacks Web page results, which means the user wouldn't get information such as reviews that it gets by searching from the main search page, Smithers said.

The Smart Search for Products feature uses Teoma search technology, natural language processing and comparison shopping technology from PriceGrabber.com LLC, whose technology also powers Ask.com's existing product search page. Smart Search for Products currently returns results mostly on about four product categories, including consumer electronic devices and software, and in the coming months will extend its reach about a dozen product categories, such as apparel, home and garden and music, she said.

"By the holiday season, we'll have the most popular categories covered," she said.

Rival Google Inc. has product a search site called Froogle (http://froogle.google.com) which is still in beta testing and whose functionality isn't available from the company's main search site. Meanwhile, Yahoo Inc.'s product search capabilities are fused into its main search function in a similar manner to Ask.com.

A product search feature is the latest extension to the Ask Jeeves Smart Search technology, which also intuitively recognizes whether queries submitted from the main search page are seeking, among other things, driving directions, pictures, movie times, news, weather information, zip code look-ups, time zone variations or numerical conversions.

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