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Ask Jeeves Buys Web Search Engine Tech Firm

In a play to go one up on search engine technology rivals AltaVista Co. and Google Inc., Emeryville, Calif.'s Ask Jeeves Inc. snapped up privately-held Teoma Technologies Inc. for an undisclosed sum.

Ask Jeeves said it believes Teoma, the provenance of whose name comes from the Gaelic word for "expert," will help it provide one of the most advanced search technologies on the Web.

Ask Jeeves will integrate Teoma's technology across its Web Properties, which boats more than 14 million unique users per month. As part of the deal, Ask Jeeves will operate Teoma.com as a stand-alone, pure search engine. Ask Jeeves will also incorporate Teoma's leading search technologies into its suite of corporate search and syndication products, used by such notable firms as About.com, iWon, MSN and Lycos.

With roots at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. (although still in beta), Teoma is supposedly the next hottest thing in the small, often quiet search engine market. Teoma's skills and methods lie in dividing the Web into natural communities and analyzing topic-specific Web content to dynamically generate the most relevant and authoritative search results.

How does Teoma's technology work? Teoma gathers results by ranking a site based on its subject-specific popularity (the number of Web pages about the subject that reference this page) as well as its general popularity (the number of all the Web pages that reference this page). It also identifies and displays naturally existing hyper-linked communities of expert sites. Teoma results are presented in three forms -- Web pages, Web Pages Grouped by Topic and Expert Links; Web Pages are links to individual sites that match a user's query; Web Pages Grouped by Topic are folders that contain all of the sites that match the query organized by sub-topic (the natural Web communities); Expert Links are links to Web sites that provide lists of authoritative sites about a particular subject.

Ask Jeeves Chief Executive Officer Skip Battle vowed that the deal will make his company's media properties even more valuable because of the improved search results.

"By combining Teoma's technology with Ask Jeeves' automated search technology, extensive reach and user-friendly interface, we will create the best overall search experience on the Web. 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," Battle said.

But while Ask Jeeves may have drawn a bead on industry leader Google with the deal, superior technology does not necessarily a stronger company make, as Gartner analysts Whit Andrews and Jackie Fenn recently weighed in on the challenges search engine companies face.

"From an intellectual point of view, search technology is among the more interesting problems connected to the Internet, and it has attracted the attention of some first-rate minds," the Gartner analysts said in a research note. "However, as any student of business knows, history is rife with examples of superior technologies that were beaten in the marketplace by inferior ones. Many variables--marketing, timing, fashion and plain-old dumb luck--contribute to the success of any product, and Internet search engines are no exception."

Teoma is based in Piscataway, N.J.