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Search start-up answers Ask Jeeves' call

Online search company Ask Jeeves agrees to buy search start-up Teoma Technologies for an undisclosed sum in a move to expand and further syndicate its services.

Ask Jeeves has agreed to buy search start-up Teoma Technologies for an undisclosed sum in a move to expand and further syndicate its search services.

The Emeryville, Calif.-based company on Tuesday said it plans to place Teoma's search technology within its Web properties, as well as maintain Teoma as a standalone search service.

Fronted by a cartoon-butler mascot, Ask Jeeves is best known for attempting to answer questions on the Web using natural language instead of specialized search terms. Analysts said Teoma brings Ask Jeeves a badly needed technology boost that could allow it to break into the syndication business, an area it has unsuccessfully targeted since its 2000 acquisition of Direct Hit, which ranks the popularity of search terms.

Ask Jeeves has planned to upgrade this service for some time, but "that technology clearly didn't have enough steam to get them through," said Danny Sullivan, editor of industry newsletter and Web site Search Engine Watch. Sullivan said search relevancy has remained a weakness for Ask Jeeves.

"They see Teoma as an ideal partner to help them have the relevancy they need to compete in the syndication market," said Sullivan. "The acquisition will let them re-enter that market."

The purchase comes as Internet search services jockey for position and survival in the increasingly cutthroat business of delivering links to popular queries.

Since the dot-com shakeout, search directories and portals have been hunting for ways to diversify revenue amid poor advertising sales. While some search services have turned to for-fee listings, others have instituted additional fees for companies seeking entry into their directory. Many others are looking for ways to bolster their search relevancy and license search services to major portals such as Yahoo and America Online.

Teoma, which is in a test phase, has received attention among industry watchers as the next major threat to reigning search supernova Google. The nine-person company, located about 10 minutes from Rutgers University in New Jersey, has been recognized for delivering relevant search queries.

Its technology uses dynamic Web clustering to rank and group relevant Web pages on any given topic. Specifically, it ranks a page based on its popularity across the Web and its status within communities focused on the subject.

"This should make our media properties even more valuable to users who want the most relevant results, advertisers who want to reach consumers in a highly contextual environment, and companies who want to offer the best Web-wide search technology for their sites," Ask Jeeves CEO Skip Battle said in a statement.