Heave Jeeves or Leave Jeeves


For those who don’t remember, Jeeves was the butler for Bertie Wooster in the P.G. Wodehouse novels. He also was the symbol for nearly 10 years for Ask Jeeves, the distant fourth in the Search Engine race against the biggies, Google, Yahoo! and more recently MSN Search. It appears that the dapper Jeeves is getting the axe as the result of the takeover of the Oakland, Calif., company in July by IAC/InterActiveCorp., run by media mogul Barry Diller.

Some feel this decision is a major mistake. As a Brit, I also might be expected to defend this British icon. However the only thing that surprises me is that it has taken Barry Diller so long to come to this decision. Such decisions can be crunched more quickly with a little bit of fundamental analysis. It’s all based on Occam’s razor, that’s been around for 6 centuries. That can be developed into a most useful decision approach called the 2 x 2 matrix. One long running example of this is the Johari Window that many people know about. The Transcend Strategy Group have even run with the idea in a book, “The Power of the 2 x 2 Matrix : Using 2×2 Thinking to Solve Business Problems and Make Better Decisions”. They have more than 50 classic models for strategic, organization and personal decision making.

Let’s see how it would apply to the question of leaving Jeeves in place or giving him the heave-ho.

Heave or Leave

In fact hidden within the Ask Jeeves search engine is some of the best search technology, known as Teoma. Rather than going along with the idea pushed by Google et al. that you should find the information you are seeking by putting keywords in a small window, AJ had a more natural approach. It was suggested that you ask a question, just as you would for any other source of knowledge. Usually the AJ results were much better than if you typed in the same question to Google or Yahoo!. By rebranding to push the idea of ASK, for which they also have the domain, www.ask.com, they may well have a much bigger impact on all those potential customers who far outnumber their current customers. As usual, the current customers will probably accept the change with only a minor hesitation.

That 2 x 2 table is typical of many very fundamental business decisions. It always seems difficult to change a company or product name that may have been around for 25 or 50 years. However the positive impact on all those potential customers, who far outnumber current customers, is very much bigger than any negative impact on current customers.

So farewell Jeeves, old friend. We’ll miss you .. a little bit.


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