Internet services firm USWeb/CKS is partnering with Ask Jeeves to install its search engine technology for corporate customers that want to offer it on their Web sites.
Through today's deal, Ask Jeeves is now training about 50 USWeb/CKS consultants to install its technology, as well as maintain the service.
Ask Jeeves, named after a fictional character invented by early 20th century English novelist P.G. Wodehouse, lets users ask questions in plain English and receive responses directing them to answers on Web pages.
An Ask Jeeves installation includes a review of existing content on the client's Web site, construction of a "knowledge base"--essentially a customized database that includes a template of possible questions and answers, including all links to where answers can be found on the company's site.
USWeb/CKS is the first consulting firm to build a standard process for installing the Ask Jeeves service, the company said.
"There's been a push [for the service] definitely over the last quarter," Ask Jeeves' vice president of marketing Sean Murphy told CNET News.com. "We want to make the service available to a wider audience of customers."
The market for Ask Jeeves and other natural language search engine technology is growing slowly, according to Gartner Group analyst Jackie Fenn.
"It's growing as more people, in general, become more ambitious with their Web site," she said. "There are other companies that have been trying to do this but not using exactly the technology approach as Ask Jeeves. Ask Jeeves has more visibility and mindshare."
However, Ask Jeeves' products require extensive engineering and customization before it can be used within corporate computer systems--which is likely why the company partnered with USWeb/CKS, she said.
Once the database is up, monitoring and constantly updating it to answer user questions is the challenge.
To date, Ask Jeeves' use has been limited mostly to technology companies such as Dell, Compaq, Bell South, and WebTV, companies that installed the technology for help desk support.
However, Murphy said Ask Jeeves is expanding to sell the technology to financial companies, announcing today that its first financial customer, brokerage firm Datek Online, is now using the service.