Apparently, the butler still does it for some people. Some fans of the Ask Jeeves icon have started a blog called
savejeeves.blogspot.com in order to plead for leniency with Jeeves' new boss, InterActiveCorp ( IACI) chief Barry Diller. Jeeves' fans don't want Diller to follow through on a plan to relegate the mascot to the scrap heap of Internet history, next to the Pets.com sock puppet. Some employees at InterActive, which bought Ask Jeeves for $1.9 billion in July, also want to retain the butler, according to a person close to the company. Last month, Diller indicated that he thought the character had outlived its usefulness. He said the company was planning to rebrand the site as ask.com, which has been its Web address for some time. Diller's remarks appear to have motivated the blogger, a former Ask Jeeves employee who chooses to remain anonymous, into action. "The butler is the most human face, the most welcoming character to greet the curious Internet searcher," says the blog's front page. "It is sad that he be squelched, in the vain hopes that people will somehow take the ask.com site to be a 'serious' contender in the search world." Internet search has changed since Jeeves, who was created by the late humorist P.G. Wodehouse, first appeared in 1996. At the time, the site was considered a novelty because it was one of the first that allowed people to pose queries in plain English. Jeeves was eventually eclipsed by Google ( GOOG) and Yahoo! ( YHOO), whose search engines work by providing people lists of information without their having to pose a question. Ask Jeeves, which still answers queries, has worked in the same way for four years. Shares of New York-based InterActive fell 24 cents Tuesday to $25.09.
"Ask Jeeves is not terrible," says John Levine, author of The Internet for Dummies, who is also an amateur Internet historian. But, he adds, "Google and Yahoo! are excellent. For the same price, why use anything but the best?" Ask Jeeves wants people to realize that its search results are on par with its larger rivals. Diller also has said the site will be the "glue" that holds together InterActive's other online businesses, such as Ticketmaster and Match.com. Whether the adhesive will be reformulated to include the butler isn't clear. "Over the last year, we have been actively engaged in testing the role of the Jeeves character, and how it affects users recognition of how the search engine has evolved and dramatically improved," Rob Ott, Ask Jeeves' vice president of marketing, said through a spokeswoman. "This research shows use of the character as the prominent symbol of the brand may inhibit people from recognizing that our search engine has changed, and now gives a better and unique search experience, and that it is good for all types of searches, not just questions." As InterActive ponders its next move, the butler's fans are vowing to maintain their vigilance. At the bottom of the first page of the blog is a picture of Jeeves with the sign, "Will Search the Internet for Food."