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Start-up asking for Jeeves customers

Amid cutthroat competition in the enterprise search business, InQuira is trying to poach customers with the message, "Don't Ask Jeeves."

Amid cutthroat competition in the enterprise search business, a new campaign is trying to poach customers with the message, "Don't Ask Jeeves."

InQuira, formed in March from the merger of AnswerFriend and Electric Knowledge, is offering existing corporate customers of Ask Jeeves the full price of InQuira's license or the amount they've already paid Jeeves, whichever is less.

The aggressive campaign comes as surviving high-tech companies battle in a tight market for cash-strapped customers. In a similar campaign in the consumer space--though without the cash refund--Apple Computer is waging a high-pitched campaign to lure Microsoft Windows users.

"We believe there are a lot of unhappy Jeeves customers out there," said Chuck Williams, president of InQuira. "Even if people are dissatisfied, they're afraid to change. This provides an impetus for those poor Jeeves customers."

Jeeves and InQuira both license software that searches a corporate intranet using so-called natural language queries that let people ask questions rather than using special search query systems.

Ask Jeeves objected to the InQuira campaign, questioning its potential and accusing the company of distorting facts.

"This is definitely not a sustainable business model," said James Speer, product manager for Jeeves Solution, the enterprise software division of Ask Jeeves. "This is an attempt to defer switching costs, and it indicates that our customers are not willing to pay those switching costs. InQuira needs these cash incentives to move that forward. We don't expect it to have a significant impact on our existing customer base."

Speer said InQuira was criticizing an ASP (application service provider) offering that Jeeves no longer sells. He also said that three customer wins InQuira cited in its press release took place between seven months and more than two years ago, long before its constituent companies merged to form InQuira.

Jeeves, which scuttled its ASP model for software applications called JeevesOne Standard and JeevesOne Enterprise, said it picked up seven new customers last quarter, including Ford, Travelocity.com and the state of Washington, adding to its base of 40 corporate customers.