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Ask Jeeves knocking on Japan's door

Japanese site is the search company's first foray overseas in four years.

Ask Jeeves on Monday unveiled a Japanese Web site, the search company's first international venture in four years.

The fifth-largest search site in the United States has formed a joint enterprise with Tokyo-based software company Transcosmos to launch the site, called Ask Jeeves Japan. The Emeryville, Calif.-based company, founded in 1996 as a specialist in natural-language queries, last branched out overseas when it entered the United Kingdom in 2000, before the dot-com collapse.

The new Japanese venture could spell competition for Web search stalwarts in that country, where Yahoo Japan, a joint venture between Yahoo and Softbank, dominates. Google, the No. 1 search property in the United States, also operates a Web site and advertising arm in Japan.

The country is attractive to search providers because it's host to a fast-growing Internet economy with thriving e-commerce. Because many people there use search engines to locate goods and services online, Web guideposts like Yahoo Japan and Google can sell online businesses a way to reach consumers via search results.

"We feel good coming in later than Google and Yahoo, because there's a lack of consumer choice. Right off the bat, we'll have a strong market position, coupled with distribution with our Transcosmos partnership and others," said Jim Lanzone, senior vice president of search products at Ask Jeeves.

Ask Jeeves and Transcosmos, which own equal shares in the venture, has introduced the Web site in a beta version in order to test its search technology, which is provided by Ask Jeeves' Teoma. They plan to officially announce the venture later this week and expect a full launch of the service in the first quarter of 2005. Transcosmos, a partner with Ask Jeeves in the software business since 2000, will promote the Japanese site on several of its Internet properties, which include Atom Shockwave K.K. and DoubleClick Japan.

Ask Jeeves, which became profitable in the second half of 2002, takes in the majority of its revenue from search-related advertisements provided by Google. It has yet to choose an ad partner for the Japanese site, Lanzone said.

Hirotaka Shiokawa, former CEO of LookSmart Japan and board member of Transcosmos, will head up the new company. Lanzone will be representative director of Ask Jeeves Japan.