Ask Jeeves: Very Good, Sir, I'll Find Out At Once

File this under "What the prospectus doesn't tell you." Before venture-capitalist Geoffrey Y. Yang made a call on BUSINESS WEEK in June, we thought it was only polite to read up a little bit on him first. We decided to use Ask Jeeves, the Net search engine that lets Web surfers ask questions instead of using keywords. After all, Yang is on the board of Ask Jeeves Inc., which was set to have an initial public offering on June 30.

What happens when you Ask Jeeves: "Who is Geoff Yang?" The first answer: "I think you may have misspelled something." We didn't. Click on the link that suggests that we fouled up, and Jeeves then ventures: "Did you mean: `Who is Goof Yang?"' We didn't, really. Yang admits that Jeeves is weak at recognizing proper names, but he says that upgrades are in the works. "I'll ask them to put in a few sentences for officers and board members," he laughs.

The good news: Ask Jeeves has backup systems that get you to the right stuff. In addition to its distinctive method of answering questions with questions in order to zero-in on what users want, it taps search engines such as AltaVista and Infoseek, which let Ask Jeeves turn up profiles on Yang. Of course, Ask Jeeves (courtesy of WebCrawler) also headlined the Official Geoff Billington Fan Club as celebrating "an international show jumper and his many horses." Now that's a group that makes a whole different kind of hay from venture capitalists.

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