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Ask Jeeves scuttles spin-off plans

The search site drops a proposal to spin off its sex-related answers to a separate Web site called Mimi after months of internal debate and a domain name buying spree.

After months of internal debate and a domain-name buying spree, Ask Jeeves has scuttled a proposal to spin off its sex-related answers to a separate Web site.

The main casualty of the decision: a sex-savvy Jeeves counterpart named Mimi.

"Mimi was a possible domain for spinning out the adult answers," said Ted Briscoe, senior vice president and general manager of Ask Jeeves' consumer service. "She's going to stay among the shelves of domain names that won't be used."

The Emeryville, Calif.-based company has been mulling its sex strategy for months, toeing a fine line between endangering its family-friendly brand (as exemplified by the suited butler character, drawn from the fiction of early 20th-century English novelist P.G. Wodehouse) and giving up a source of traffic and revenue from the popular and lucrative online pornography trade.

Ask Jeeves reserved a half-dozen racier Mimi domains with the intention of keeping them from poachers, according to Briscoe. Examples from the past month include "askmimi.com," "mymimi.com," "mimilooks.com" and "mimifinds.com."

"Mimi.com," however, remains the property of a Silicon Valley technical writer named Mimi. She could not be reached for comment.

The company has been deciding between three options, Briscoe said. The first was to continue with the status quo: Jeeves today will answer most questions related to sex, though before it returns any X-rated links, it serves an intervening "jump" screen that warns users what they're about to see.

The second option was to launch a separate site under the Mimi character; the third was to pull out of the sex search business altogether.

Early on, Ask Jeeves decided it would not get out of the business, citing strong user demand for sex-related answers. More recently, it opted not to launch the separate site, leaving it with the option of fine-tuning its present method.

"We have been able to tune the Q&A knowledge base through matching algorithms and scoring methods so that only a small percentage of people get adult results when they weren't looking for them," Briscoe said.

As part of enhancing the current system, Ask Jeeves may use technology acquired with its proposed purchase of Direct Hit, announced last month. Direct Hit ranks search results according to the amount of time previous searchers spent on returned sites.