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Ask Jeeves finds answers en Español

The company unveils plans to launch a Spanish-language Web site in a joint venture with Univision, a Spanish-language media giant based in Los Angeles.

Ask Jeeves unveiled plans today to launch a Spanish-language Web site in a joint venture with Univision, a Spanish-language media giant based in Los Angeles.

Ask Jeeves en Español will cater to Spanish speakers in Latin America, Spain and the United States. This marks the company's second expansion into international markets, following a February launch in the United Kingdom.

The market for Spanish-speaking Internet users has grown increasingly competitive over the past year, with players including Yahoo Latin America, America Online Latin America, Lycos Latin America, StarMedia Network, Terra Networks, Yupi and eHola.

George Lichter, president of Ask Jeeves International, said he was not deterred by the competition or the poor stock performance of some companies, such as AOL Latin America and StarMedia.

Shares of StarMedia have fallen 55 percent since mid-July, and shares of the AOL spinoff have fallen to $7.87, 13 cents below the IPO price.

"Unlike AOL Latin America, we extend into the U.S. and we're not tied to an (Internet service provider) that depends on a monthly fee," said Lichter, who pointed out the critiques against AOL Latin America were asking how its fee-based ISP could compete with free services. "The Latin American landscape is a lot less competitive than the U.K., and we leapfrogged above our competitors there."

U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray analyst Safa Rashtchy was optimistic about the joint venture. He said Ask Jeeves en Español will have an advantage given that Internet users in emerging markets tend to be less Internet savvy and will be drawn to a site that allows them to search for information using actual sentences rather than keywords.

"You can come on the Web and ask the question the way you want it, just in a Spanish sentence the way you would ask friends," Rashtchy said.

He also applauded Emeryville, Calif.-based Ask Jeeves' decision to launch its Spanish-language site as a joint venture. "If they were doing it alone, it would have required a lot more expenditures," he said.

Univision will promote Ask Jeeves en Español through its TV and radio stations and will market Ask Jeeves Business Solutions, which sells the technology to corporations. According to a statement, Univision reaches 92 percent of U.S. Hispanic households through its various media outlets.

At the end of 1999, 2 percent of Latin Americans were online. That number is expected to reach 12 percent by 2005, according to a recent study by Jupiter Communications. In addition, 4 percent of Latin American households own a computer, a figure that is expected to reach 13 percent by 2005, the study said.