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Ask.com's Jeeves disappears on 'gardening leave'

The butler is traveling on a 'secret mission' as part of a site re-branding exercise.

Internet butler Jeeves--star of eponymous search engine Ask Jeeves--has gone missing, leaving many to wonder where he's gone and when or if he will be back.

Others may simply be tempted to wonder whether anybody will actually miss him.

Jeeves has come in for some stick over the years for returning results which often left users confused and his service has long been surpassed by search giants such as Google.

Now his employers at Ask.com have decided it's time for change and have taken the decision to put him on "gardening leave" as part of a rebranding exercise.

However, they are not ruling out a return for Jeeves once he is fully rested, though early suggestions from the company seem to be that he will need to undergo a bit of a makeover first.

Aylin Savkan, vice president of marketing at Ask Jeeves, said: "Jeeves has been finding solutions to millions of searches every day for the last four years. However, as our site evolves and updates, we felt that Jeeves too needed to take a break and a new look to personify the new, fresh and dynamic Ask Jeeves that we will launch on his return."

The butler appeared to have been a little slow on Tuesday morning, as the site limped along a little. It wasn't so much a case of "yes sir, right away sir", but more "cannot find server, this page cannot be displayed" from the pinstriped batman.

By Friday, Jeeves had resurfaced--in a manner of speaking. The butler's silhouette once again appeared on Ask.com's home page, linking through to messages posted by Jeeves during the course of a "secret mission to strengthen and improve Ask.com". Friday's dispatch, formatted to look like a mobile phone text message, originated from Utah where the character was engaged in "testing new engines for my search".

Ask.com's site contains a section about the P.G. Wodehouse character Jeeves--a gentleman's gentleman, rather than a butler--but clarifies that the successors to Wodehouse's literary rights have no association with the site.

Will Sturgeon of Silicon.com reported from London.