Internet Buzz with Richard Wiggins | 14
|Volume 1, Number 29||August 24, 1998||Internet Buzz main page|
East Lansing, Michigan
very new technology foists new kinds of hype upon us. In the 1970s, data processing fell out of vogue and morphed into management information systems. When databases became popular, relational databases were de rigueur. Today's new buzzword is knowledge management -- taking us beyond databases and information systems to knowledge management systems.
Alas, no one knows precisely what the term means, but that doesn't stop its mandatory adoption. "Knowledge management" seems to connote systems that capture the knowledge of a company, either on behalf of its customers, or for internal purposes. While a lot of very fancy companies have built knowledge management systems Â or, more likely, renamed their old systems under this new badge Â I'm betting that a relatively simple technology and methodology will be the most important knowledge management system on the market.
That system is AskJeeves. Yes, the same software that lets naive Internet users ask "Why is the sky blue?" may soon help a customer who just bought a PC over the Internet ask "Why does my 24X CD-ROM suddenly stop spinning?" or may help employees at Chrysler ask "What happens to my 401(K) after Daimler takes over?"
Recently I interviewed Dan Miller, one of the founders of AskJeeves. He shared with me details of Jeeves' new roles at the support desk and behind the firewall. Even though Miller never uses the term "knowledge management," I believe Jeeves' question-and-answer methodology is perfect for capturing a defined corpus of knowledge. We began our interview with a discussion of the public AskJeeves site.
Wiggins: How does Jeeves compare to competitive services?
Miller: First, there are the keyword search sites like Altavista, Infoseek, everybody else.... The only difference among them is branding Â Coke versus Pepsi Â they're all pretty much the same thing. People use the search engines because they can be effective, but in general people don't like them. It's very, very frustrating because you spend twenty minutes trying to find the piece of information you're looking for.
A little bit better than that is the directory-type service such as Yahoo, where you find a category of sites fairly quickly. It's pretty effective. This kind of service uses humans to categorize things Â and we use humans, too, but in a different way.
And then there's AskJeeves, which is a question-answering system. Ask a question, and it gives you a confirmation of the question you're asking; select it, and you're there! There are never 800,000 matches to your query. There's a one-to-one mapping: each question has only one answer. The answer is guaranteed to be relevant, because it's chosen by a researcher to be the answer to the question.
Now, we don't guarantee our answer is the only answer, certainly. There may be many places that have the answer. But the answer we offer you is guaranteed to be a good one. If you want to know who the 17th president was, you don't care about the site that gives you the answer, you just want to know the answer!
Someone else made this comparison:
- Using a keyword search engine is like walking up and down the aisles of a library, randomly looking for a book that gives the answer to a question.
- Using Yahoo is like going to the card catalog.
- Using Jeeves is like going up to the librarian and asking the question.
That's kind of the way we see it, too.
You know, it's interesting, I've previously written about Northern Light, and their director of content classification is from a library background, and she uses a very similar metaphor describing their service.
That's true; they do something different than we do; I think they're considered a lot more specialized, where we are meant really for everyone. The thing is, people love Jeeves. We have fanatical users, because they feel so relieved. A lot of people are new users, and it scares them to have to learn to use search engines Â to have to learn Boolean or other fancy features. "Oh no, I've got 3000 matches to the query, now what do I do?" Whereas with us, it's very natural Â just type in a question and get your answer.
Back in 1995 I interviewed Michael Mauldin, the inventor of Lycos, and back then he said "We always try to keep in mind that average user of the Internet is a new user." That's still true in many ways.
Yes, our recent studies of users confirms that point. We had an independent survey firm conduct a careful survey of users of search engines. We have not promoted Jeeves heavily -- though we're planning to change that. Seventy percent of the users who had not used Jeeves before Â who had just tried it the first time during the survey Â said they'd use Jeeves for their next ten searches, over all the other others. The next closest was Yahoo, at 18%.
So I think it's actually true. If the public all knew about AskJeeves, and Yahoo, and all the rest equally, I think we'd be preferred among all of them.
Comments are welcome