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Old 12-29-2004   #1
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The Little Engine That Could

For me, Ask Jeeves, is a search engine that has so much potential, that it kills me to see them sit back and follow the leaders.

But Ask has been through hard times, only to establish itself as Apple Computer of the search business. Chris Sherman was quoted in an article by Chris Gaither named Which Search Engine Firm Is Coming Back? as saying; "They have very small share, but it's a very dedicated group of people who use them."

Quote:
Ask Jeeves' condition grew dire as rival Google rose to fame across the San Francisco Bay in Mountain View. After signing the 10-year, $80-million lease to move its rapidly expanding staff to Oakland, Ask Jeeves posted a loss of $189 million, laid off more than half its employees and paid $16 million to get out of the lease.
So when I asked in the Meet the Crawlers session in the Q & A session:
Q: I asked Ask Jeeves why they bury the Teoma results way under the Google AdWords results at Ask Jeeves?
A: Michael answered that is was not about not being more relevant, they feel Teoma is more relevant than AdWords. But it is set up that way from a monetization standspoint only. Fair answer.

The answer is because Google saved them from their financial distress, as the article says:

Quote:
In 2002, Google and Ask Jeeves inked a three-year deal to place $100 million worth of ads on Ask.com. The two companies shared the money advertisers paid whenever people clicked on those ads, known as sponsored links. The alliance has since been extended to 2007.
With that money, they made some major advancements to Teoma.

Loyalty comes from what? Brand? Quality?

Can Ask Jeeves get beyond their current market share? Do they want to or are they happy with their current position?

This might come as a bold statement, but of the major search engines (Google and Yahoo, even MSN), Ask Jeeves plays the smallest role in communication with our industry (SEM). Yes they go to the conferences but it is the little things they miss. Yahoo and Google read the SEM blogs, participate (or better yet, read) the forums. Ask, I think does less in that way.

What will it take? Is it possible? Will it happen? Does it matter?
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Old 12-29-2004   #2
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Like many, I've always thought highly of Teoma and the team behind it.

However, I don't have much new to say about Ask Jeeves as a company. In spite of its relatively healthy market valuation -- I believe this is because the company does generate good cash as a kind of pragmatic PPC advertising holding company, more so now that it owns Excite and iWon or what have you -- the company lacks direction in the search arena.

Experts excitedly point to new search-related projects at companies like Amazon and IBM. No one is talking about Ask Jeeves in that vein.

If Ask Jeeves doesn't do anything related to the natural-language question-answering they promised to pioneer when they launched, then the whole enterprise degenerates into a debate amongst top management and a succession of ad agencies about the relative importance of the butler.

I'm told Ask Jeeves does well in the UK. Maybe, but for how long? Can a cute brand alone compete in a technological field? I doubt it. The comparison with Apple doesn't do justice to Apple, which is one of the world's great, innovative companies.

Teoma is a good search engine, but so is Google. So is Yahoo Search. So might be MSN Search. Jeeves needed to do something different, and it needed to do it regularly and impressively. I'll pay attention when the company's share of monthly searches exceeds 5% in the United States.
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Old 12-29-2004   #3
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Ask is a very conflicted puppy. It began with very simple but marketable innovations ('natural language' questions proven originally through AV, and the DirectHit 'click popularity' algo, etc) which had flaws. The strength was definitely in the marketing rather than the tech.

Ask used to provide some very different results for a while (back in around 2000) which while not relevant enough to most questions to make it a primary engine choice, did make it one of my backup engines for further research.

It suffered the same fate that so many dot-com boomers did - it was wrecked by over-eagerness to make money. In no time, Ask was filled with nothing but PPC listings, and effectively killed off for anything but shopping related searches.

Ask had the exceptional good fortune and foresight to purchase one of the very best search engine technologies known however - Teoma. The quality at least rivalled Google, and indeed often surpassed it, and the only obstacle between Teoma and the unquestioned glory it deserved what that its database was smaller than Google's. It just needed to index more. Nothing else.

But, the desperation for cash that hit so many dot-com boomers hit this. Rather than let Teoma grow as it should, Ask insisted on tethering it by trying to turn into a pay-for-indexing engine. This was an unforgivable error of judgement, and in my opinion, is definitely responsible for Teoma not taking Google's place as the top engine in 2001/2002. Teoma had the technology, but had no pilot with the faith and vision.

The saddest waste I've ever seen in search.

Even if Ask hadn't hamstrung Teoma's growth by trying too hard to commercialise it too soon, they'd found another way to hamper it. Ask paid thousands for some impact studies on how the launch of Teoma might affect the revenue of AskJeeves. Naturally, they found that launching the worlds best search tech would probably have an adverse effect on the business of a third-rate PPC billboard that only had marketshare at all through expensive advertising. So they buried Teoma.

How dumb could these folks be?

This strikes me as being akin to a horse-farm deciding that they should not open the worlds first auto factory because it might cause them to sell less horses. A masterpiece of short-termism and lack of vision.

So, will Ask ever be a player again?

No. Not because of innovation, but because the problem is with those at the top, not those at the front-line. The management have no vision and no soul for search, and will continue to miss the woods for the trees.

Only a complete revamp of management could save Ask, and they lack the management to see that.
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Old 12-29-2004   #4
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Quote:
For me, Ask Jeeves, is a search engine that has so much potential, that it kills me to see them sit back and follow the leaders.
I think they've actually been the leader in some aspects. They've got personalization/search memory features that Google doesn't. They've long had great query refinement. Frankly, their particular algorithm seems a bit more link bomb resistant than others. Shortcut features, direct display of images, these are other areas where they've led.

Quote:
Can Ask Jeeves get beyond their current market share? Do they want to or are they happy with their current position?
Well, they bought market share earlier this year. They might also incrementally gain through word of mouth. But it's going to be hard with three major players out there. Still, I think they've done an amazing job still getting a slice of the pie/being on the radar screen at all. Let's play "Where's Lycos" to see what they've avoided.
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Old 12-29-2004   #5
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I dunno...

I've been happily using Teoma as my secondary search engine for some time now - if I can't find it on Google, I use Teoma next, Same with Yahoo.

This is because although their relevancy seems quite good, the number of sites they have indexed seems low and is affecting the search results. When you only have a small group of sites to choose from you are not as likely to find the best answer as you will when you have a larger selection. But up until recently their algo has been able to give results based on intelligence when pure quantity would not do it.

But lately I've been avoiding them. The results seem to be getting worse and worse - entire SERPS full of duplicate sites serving viruses, really odd results that have little to do with the search criteria, etc.

Add to that insult the wholesale sellout of Googles Ads, and it was a death blow. If I want to see Googles Ads, I'll search on Google, thanks.

IMO, unless they make some significant changes soon, starting with increasing their index of real sites and throwing out duplicates, they are in serious trouble.

Which is too bad - I kind of liked them as the underdog. But right now Teoma is more of a sickly poodle than a serious possibility.

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Old 12-29-2004   #6
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Seems like many of you are saying the same thing.

Quote:
I believe this is because the company does generate good cash as a kind of pragmatic PPC advertising holding company
Quote:
In no time, Ask was filled with nothing but PPC listings, and effectively killed off for anything but shopping related searches.
Natural search, organic results, FREE results - are what make a search engine a major player in the industry. Google knows this, Yahoo does, and even MSN is jumping on the bandwagon.

For Ask to buy teoma, and let it sit and rot, symbolizes something.

Danny does have an excellent point, Ask is doing a wonderful job of "Shortcut features". I personally think they are doing a better job with that then Google, Yahoo and MSN. Will that make the difference?

It is hard to know, us SEMs don't have strong ties with Ask (IMO).
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Old 12-29-2004   #7
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Myself, Chris Gaither of the LA Times and Paul Gardi of Jeeves/Teoma had dinner together in San Jose during SES. Chris usually covers the big dogs such as Google and Yahoo! but there was plenty to talk about for the future of Jeeves.

I don't think that Chris Sherman's analogy of Ask/Apple in the LA Times article is too far from the mark at all.

There's a whole lot of stuff going on technology wise at Teoma. In my opinion Apostolos Gerasoulis, the brain behind the Teoma algorithm took their search technology to a point where Google was following them for a while. Not the other way around.

It was his genius that cracked the run time analysis problem with Kleinberg's original HITS algorithm. Although Google seem not to want to comment on that very much at all. I was stunned when I realised that he'd managed to get a keyword dependant algorithm down to sub-second results. At first I thought it may have been a bit of smoke and mirrors, but the more I test Teoma, the more I believe he's done it. But, like I say, the guy is a genius. (And I'm not just saying that because he sent me some very kind words about the topic distillation/Teoma white paper I wrote!)

Having said that, they are quite susceptible to being knocked sideways every now and again as they get their somewhat smaller indexed pummelled with millions of spammy networks.

Coincidentally, as it is, I spotted some very amateur cloaking doing well at Teoma when I was working with a client just last week.

However, they're now in a situation where playing catch-up on market share and brand awareness against Google and the like is going to be very difficult. But, as Danny mentioned, now that they've extended the amount of inventory they have with the purchase of the Infospace properties, they'll be filling up the war chest with a bit more cash for more promotion and expansion.

The timing is just a little too early for this thread, but as fate would have it, I have one of my in-depth "In conversation with..." features, due in the coming weeks with Michael Palka, Director of Product Management at Jeeves. In fact, after Barry's comment about not having close ties with SEO's I think I may drag Michael kicking and screaming in here with me after the interview is published.

Happy Christmas/holidays to all at SEW forums by the way. And I wish you all a happy and prosperous new year!

Cheers!

Mike.

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Old 12-29-2004   #8
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I have never personally used Teoma/Ask Jeves much because it has been so english focused. I work in several languages and need an engine that can return good results in them all - Google does that, Inktomi does that to some degree and we expect MSN to do that too. Teomo/AskJeves dosn't.

Quote:
It just needed to index more. Nothing else.
There are several issues that comes into play in case they actually did index a lot more and did gain a lot bigger share of the search market.

1) When you increase the number of documents in an index dramatically the algorythms may not work as well as they used to. They may not work at all. I have seen search technology that works fantastic on a limited scale but just can't scale up to the size of Google, Yahoo and MSN.

2) If AskJeves ever gets very popular they will also gain "popularity" with the hard core Black Hats, hackers and spammers alike. The more popular you are the more in target for attacks you get. Can they sistain it? I don't know - only time can (potentially) tell...

On top of this comes "packaging" - Google did the best job in this industry ever when they launched. I will still claim that more than half of Googles succes is due to the "packaging" bundled with the brilliant viral marketing they pulled. Not so much search quality in itself.
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Old 12-29-2004   #9
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An invaluable thread as the titans of SEW weigh in on Jeeves. Nice read guys.
My two cents on Jeeves/Teoma. There appears to be no vision from the top. Battle is cashing in and Berkowitz is not far behind. Insider sales have scared off a good part of the investor community. While institutions are invested the company is hedged by a powerful short lobby. Where they are long Google and Yahoo they are short ASKJ.
The company COULD turn around searcher and investor perspective by marketing the product(s) on a mass scale through TV, radio, print, and local newspapers. No one can argue the loyalties of Iwon, Excite, and MyWay users. Jeeves inherited a very loyal base of users through the ISH acquisition. One would assume that if they could attract more users that more would stay.
Teoma offers more relevant results for my tastes because unlike Google the top serps are not clogged with national brands listings. Often times when I am frustrated with G or Y I find myself at Mamma where I use the refined search results that are supplied default by Teoma.
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Old 12-29-2004   #10
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Plain and simple. There is one way to gain market share - Big media marketing. Until they market nobody talks about Jeeves. I do love that MyWay has a deal with Dell. Being preinstalled on new Dell computers is smart as heck. FunWebProducts distribution of toolbars is very smart also. I mean MyWebSearch is everywhere. Their distribution techiques are great. Their marketing stinks. I used to see iWon commercials 3 or 4 times a day on CBS in the late 90s. User numbers were on fire. When is the last time anybody talked about iWon or any of Ask's properties since the commercials stopped? I rest my case. Its all about marketing. Nobody questions the quality of the product. Unfortunately very few know about the product.

Last edited by MUSCLE13 : 12-29-2004 at 08:35 PM.
 
Old 12-29-2004   #11
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To get a bigger slice of the search queries takes a lot of hard work. And even more for an engine like ASK Jeeves. The Big 3 have grown due to popularity, features from its portal or even being driving traffic from the default homepage on just about every new computer with IE as the browser of choice. HOWEVER, creative concepts like:

http://www.ajkids.com/index.asp?origin=0&meta=1

I believe is very smart, to gain market share by targeting kids => kids grow up and become loyal to their search engines. We see this with grown ups and Google in the biggest proportion. The question really would be.... what is Ask doing to push this strategy off line? Have they installed this as the default search engine in all K-12 schools??? I don't have any clue, but this could be on to something.

Gaining search volume has many strategies, not just one, not just technology. Yes technology can be a BIG issue for our community, but not the only one for THE BIG PICTURE.

Conversations and feedback through forums for search engine representatives and our community is indeed very important, greatly appreciated by both parties and I'm sure it helps grow brand awareness. We are the voice of this industry and as P&G calls it, we are the "trend spreaders" not the "trend starters".

I will be honored to see a representative participate from Ask/Teoma, just as I am with Google and Yahoo!
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Old 12-29-2004   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nacho
The Big 3 have grown due to popularity, features from its portal or even being driving traffic from the default homepage on just about every new computer with IE as the browser of choice.
Nacho - MyWay is now the IE default homepage on various new Dell computers. So Jeeves has at least addressed that point.
 
Old 12-29-2004   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nacho
I believe is very smart, to gain market share by targeting kids => kids grow up and become loyal to their search engines. We see this with grown ups and Google in the biggest proportion. The question really would be.... what is Ask doing to push this strategy off line? Have they installed this as the default search engine in all K-12 schools??? I don't have any clue, but this could be on to something.
I can not help but laugh when I read that. Did you see the thread named Ask Serves Porn to School Kids. I guess that type of stuff sticks. Of course this was a mistake that was quickly corrected by Ask Jeeves.
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Old 12-29-2004   #14
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The best way for Jeeves to gain market share and proliferate Teoma search technology across the web would be for them to merge into a larger company like AOL or Microsoft but who knows if that will ever happen. Another way is for Jeeves to continue to buy market share like they did with ISH. Unfortunately Jeeves seems way too small to me to keep trying to gain on its own. In my opinion it has to acquire or be acquired.
 
Old 12-29-2004   #15
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Jeez, now we have to stop ignoring you guys and actually weigh in for a change. =)

There is some truth and some fiction in the posts above. We're not afraid of admitting our faults, and at the same time wouldn't mind getting more credit for what we are doing today. Let me try to address as much as I can. My in-laws won't mind if I disappear for a while, right?

The most off-the-mark statements above are that Ask Jeeves has "left Teoma to rot" or that we "lack direction in search," when in fact we are pretty much obsessed with making a great search engine. At the time of the acquisition in late 2001, Teoma only had 7 employees. Since then, our company’s biggest investment in new people has, by far, been in those working directly on the engine, which is now well into triple digits. Apostolos and Tao Yang, the other creator of Teoma, are still leading the way and, yes, they are geniuses.

In terms of the product itself, we’ve invested significantly in building out our search infrastructure (which was nearly non-existent when we bought Teoma) to enable, among other things, index growth, freshness, and internationalization. We’ve also spent a great deal of time and energy honing the core technology that, as Mike notes above, gives Teoma world-class relevance with a differentiated point of view. Our search pick rates on Ask.com continue to rise to all-time highs, across the broad spectrum of user queries, so we're making great progress there.

In terms of innovative features, we've been punching above our weight in being at the forefront of development. Related Topics (the refinement offshoot of Teoma and a leading clustering technology), Smart Answers, Binoculars, Local search, MyJeeves and - yes - Desktop Search, are all recent examples, and we have more fun stuff up our sleeves for 2005. Yes, this includes a step toward the next generation of question answering, since questions account for approximately 20% of our searches today on Ask.com.

Now, to address some more pointed concerns above, let’s start with the number of ads on the page. Danny and I have spoken about this a good deal, and he can vouch for the fact that we understand the points Rusty and others are making. As a public company, there's not a whole lot I can say about this, other than that: a) we're aware of the potential impact to the user experience; and b) we're working on ways to get to the right user experience while balancing revenue. As some of you may recall, we were the first public search company to eliminate banners, towers, and pop-ups on our site (i.e., the first major engine other than Google, which never had them to begin with). We were also the first to eliminate paid inclusion. Give us some time and we'll find the right balance here.

In terms of paid inclusion, we did a lot of talking in this forum and on Webmaster World back when we decided to eliminate the program, so I’ll just refer you to those discussions on that subject.

Re: reaching out to the SEM community, I think we could do more, Rusty's right, though our small size has something to do with it. We’re at every conference we can reasonably attend (even SES Stockholm!), and will continue to do so. JeevesGuy makes appearances when there are questions in the boards. On the other hand, we don’t have JeevesGuy on the boards full-time, and we don’t yet have our own blog for regular communications from our team to the outside world. This is primarily because we usually have our heads down, working like crazy to try to make better products. Any advice you all have on how you'd like to see Ask Jeeves get more involved, we’re all ears.

All in all, we want the same thing you guys seem to want for us, which is quality, differentiation, and growth. I think we’ve been building a solid foundation, which is why we’ve been succeeding the past couple of years despite certain shortcomings. Now we need to take things to the next level, balancing all of our obligations. What I hope you guys take away from this post is that we understand and we’re trying get there as quickly as possible.

Again, any and all advice is sincerely welcomed.

Thanks
Jim
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Old 12-29-2004   #16
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The problem with the millions of other people besides the SEM community here Jim is that nobody talks about you guys. The quality is fine. Everybody talks about Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. Its the lack of marketing. Its the regular people in this world you guys should concentrate on. Jeeves is so obsessed with being the best search that they forgot that if nobody talks about you nobody visits your sites. The only person that I know that talks about Jeeves is me. All my friends and co-workers talk about Yahoo and Google, EVEN MY WIFE! When Jeeves biggest fan's wife is talking about Google you know you have a recognition problem.

Last edited by MUSCLE13 : 12-29-2004 at 11:09 PM.
 
Old 12-30-2004   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim Lanzone
Any advice you all have on how you'd like to see Ask Jeeves get more involved, we’re all ears.
Hey Jim, thank you so much for spending time to respond.

That's great that you guys want to become "trend starters" with new concepts as you mention for '04 and soon to be in '05, but don't forget your "trend spreaders" = Us, your SEM community.

So you guys participate in just about every SES, that's great! We love you for it! However, the constant communication through the boards and the great SEM blogs (like SERoundtable or Threadwatch.org to name just a couple) give you the best feedback for all your ears. When I first got into this industry one of the first things I learned was: read, read, read. Now after growing up, I know its about: reading, sharing, giving.
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Old 12-30-2004   #18
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If I may add to the great criticisms above, one of my own personal bugbears - any search engine that only allows national TLDs in a search for national-specific websites.

The fact that Ask.co.uk (and some other SE's) only return .uk domains on UK searches is pretty appalling - IMO, you cannot hope to build a strong repuation for any product which makes such awful short-cuts.

The use of the Ask frame over results is something that also seems disrespectful to webmasters, rather than useful to surfers.
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Old 12-30-2004   #19
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What a sign of relief to here from you Jim.

I disagree a little with MUSCLE13 on the statement "Jeeves is so obsessed with being the best search that they forgot that if nobody talks about you nobody visits your sites." People like those who posted in this thread (Mike Grehan, Andrew Goodman, Danny Sullivan, Mikkel, Ammon and so on -- cant name you all, just look up the list) are the trend setters. They all have major reach and we know the when some of those individuals in this thread say something, it trickles through the SEM community like wild fire. Then you find it on blogs, and small content sites. If Danny deems it appropriate he will write on it at SEW. Might propagate its way over to ClickZ and other Jupiter properties. Then CNN might interview Danny on the topic.

But I believe most of the chatter and trend setting comes from deep within side the community and the forums. Going to the SES shows is great! It was great that Tim Mayer and his crew offered me time to interview him about the way Yahoo learns from our community. Google has not done that, but I know they participate in the forums (like Ask does) but even more so in the blogs (which are more mainstream). MSN, it is hard to say for now - all I know is that they have links to SEM blogs on their MSN Search blog (so that makes a statement) AND of course they are at SES and have a rep here.


There is one thing that I think most would agree on. Most of the big names in our industry WANT Ask Jeeves / Teoma to rock this search industry. I know I do, I am pretty sure Mike and Ammon do. We want you to make a statement like no one else. Smart Answers, Binoculars, Local search, MyJeeves and Desktop Search are great. Binoculars is a bit corny but cool. MyJeeves, nice idea for personalization but nothing innovative when compared to the other smaller specialized engines. Desktop, well you have to do that. I must say you guys do an outstanding job with Local.

But Teoma is where you need to focus, IMO. I know you said "Since then, our company’s biggest investment in new people has, by far, been in those working directly on the engine, which is now well into triple digits. Apostolos and Tao Yang, the other creator of Teoma, are still leading the way and, yes, they are geniuses," and that is really wonderful. I think building a buzz around your geniuses (like Google does) would be outstanding. Rutgers has a great name, its a 'cool' university.

I am fishing here, good thing I am not in your position. But I think, and deeply believe its about Teoma.
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Old 12-30-2004   #20
bwelford
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Join Date: Jun 2004
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Go for your USP

I've always felt that expecting a search engine to give you the relevant answer you're looking for in one step is expecting too much. That's why I always felt Teoma was on the right lines in showing clusters as a way for the searcher to focus his or her search. None of the other majors has really picked up on that approach, although Google Suggest may have the same objective in mind.

USP (Unique Selling Proposition) is still the way to go, rather than a 'Me Too' approach. So, ASK, I would encourage you to 'Focus, focus, focus' on one of the major things that makes you stand out from the crowd.
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