Ask Jeeves Receives Funding, Expands Into Customer Service

Search engine company Ask Jeeves Inc. Monday received $25 million in new funding and announced agreements with several companies who plan to use its technology to improve their customer service.

The $25 million came from Highland Capital Partners, IVP and an unspecified number of individual investors. Ask Jeeves will use the funds to expand its Consumer Answer Network, which focuses on offering the technology to companies wanting to offer online customer support.

The company announced Don Nova, an early investor in Lycos and Geoffrey Yang, partner at IVP and an initial backer of Excite, are joining the company’s board.

“Ask Jeeves represents the next generation of intelligent computing. It combines the highest level of automation with the select application of human wisdom from a live research staff. This unique formula will allow Ask Jeeves to scale with the growth of the Internet,” Yang said.

Ask Jeeves will focus on selling its technology to companies and also aims to increase consumer use of the Ask Jeeves site. Companies can license the Ask Jeeves consumer knowledge base or have the company develop customized solutions that will answer questions on specific topics.

The technology enables users to type questions in conversational English and receive a list of links that will direct them to the information they are seeking.

“Our vision is to bring all the great answers available on the Internet into one easy and intuitive resource to create a powerful, relevant connection between consumers and businesses online,” said Rob Wrubel, Ask Jeeves president and chief executive officer.

“By bringing together all of our consumer-driven knowledge bases, we will ultimately be able to direct consumers to the site with the best answer to their question regardless of where the consumer or the answer resides on the Internet.”

Ask Jeeves also announced a number of licensing deals Monday with companies who will use its technology. Toshiba and BellSouth have licensed its Corporate Question-Answering Service to improve their online customer service.

Toshiba Monday also launched Ask IRIS Online and BellSouth will use AskJeeves technology on its BellSouth Buzz portal. BellSouth plans to expand the portal to serve 62 local markets in its nine-state region.

“Toshiba’s Ask IRIS Online will provide the fastest possible service experience for our customers by providing direct answers to their questions and links to the right solutions,” said Dan Ludwick, Toshiba America Information Systems’ director of services marketing.

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