Ask Jeeves Expands to Japan With New Look for Butler

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For its trip to Japan, Ask Jeeves decided its butler needed a makeover.


Ask Jeeves launched a test version yesterday of a Japanese search engine, Ask.jp, as it prepares to take on Google and Yahoo in the world's second-largest Internet market.


Jeeves, the search engine's iconic butler, has changed his appearance on Ask.jp. The Japanese Jeeves has traded in his necktie and pinstriped jacket for a bowtie and black suit. He has also slimmed down, taken on a brighter complexion, and seems to have reversed the balding process to add hair on his temples.


"We market-tested some different looks in that market and this is the most popular," Jim Lanzone, vice president of product management at Ask Jeeves and the company's representative director on Ask Jeeves Japan's board. "The character will retain consistency. We're not going to alter the character for every market."


Ask.jp is powered by its Teoma search technology. It was developed by Ask Jeeves Japan, a joint venture between Emeryville, CA-based Ask Jeeves and Japanese Internet holding company Transcosmos.


Ask Jeeves Japan expects Ask.jp will officially launch in the first quarter of 2005, when it will add paid listings. Ask Jeeves Japan has not decided on a paid search partner, said Lanzone.


"It's a separate company and they're going to need to negotiate the right deal for them," he said. "But we have a very good relationship with Google obviously."


Google distributes paid listings to Ask Jeeves' U.S. and United Kingdom sites. Last month, the two companies renewed their paid search agreement through 2007.


Ask Jeeves' Japanese-only index currently has 150 million Web pages, the company said. Ask.jp currently has related searches and Ask Jeeves will add features like Smart Search shortcuts for information and its binoculars feature for previewing the Web sites of search listings.


According to government figures, Japan has 77 million Internet users, making it the second largest Internet market in the world behind the United States. The country's search market is dominated by Yahoo Japan, which drew 27.8 million home visitors in July, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. Google.jp was visited by 7.1 million.


"There's the same lack of consumer choice in search as there is here but to a worse degree," Lanzone said. "They only have Yahoo and Google, which power most of the top 10 search sites in Japan."


Ask Jeeves Japan would take advantage of the many Internet companies in Transcosmos' portfolio to build traffic, he said. Transcosmos owns stakes in companies such as DoubleClick Japan and online loyalty program Netmile.


International expansion has risen to the top of the priority list for search engines, as the U.S. search market matures. According to Jupiter Research, U.S. search advertising growth will begin to taper in the next couple years, with annual growth rates falling from 34 percent this year to 11 percent in 2009.


Google has sold AdWords listings in Japan since July 2002. Yahoo's Overture Services unit launched there in December 2002. Yahoo has a clear lead over Google in the market, with Overture listings also appearing on MSN Japan and Nikkei Net. Google has distribution deals with NEC/BigGlobe and Excite Japan.


Since opening its first office abroad three years ago, international operations have become a big chunk of Google's business. According to its latest financial filing, international sales accounted for 31 percent of the company's revenue in the first six months of the year. In the same period a year earlier, international sales were 28 percent of sales. Google reported more than half of its user traffic now comes from outside the United States.


The company recently opened a research and development center in Tokyo that will work to develop Japanese-tailored search services. Google also has R&D centers in Switzerland and India.


Ask Jeeves, which operates search sites in the United States and United Kingdom, has also tabbed international expansion as an important growth avenue. Last quarter, international operations accounted for 19 percent of the company's revenue.


"This is the first in what will be a long process of international expansion for the company," Lanzone said.


The Ask Jeeves Japan joint venture was formed in September 2000 to focus on providing enterprise search. Ask Jeeves subsequently sold its enterprise search division, Jeeves Solutions, in May 2003 to focus on Web search.


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