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Jeeves: Your Cyberspace Butler



So, you've finally landed that prestigious job interview. Your flight is tomorrow, but you still need to figure out which hotel you are staying in and whether to pack your rain jacket or not. Problem is, that seven-page Core paper you also need to finish is still in its conceptual stages.

What you need is some information, and you need it fast. But where do you get it? Before the Internet revolution, the answer would be unclear. But with the rise of the World Wide Web, the answers you seek are sure to be available on-line.

Unfortunately, like most technological innovations, the World Wide Web comes with many pitfalls. The sheer size of the Web can make tracking down any piece of information a fairly time-consuming task. And when you realize that the majority of Web sites are full of information of little relevance, the prospects for finding anything appear to be fairly dismal.

The popular Web search engines, usually limited to esoteric keyword searches, are also of little assistance. Try the keyword search of "Seattle hotels" on Excite ( and your top match will be a comprehensive description of a hotel-based closed-circuit television network. Fascinating, perhaps. Relevant, clearly not. And although more work with Excite is likely to obtain some better sources of information, doing such work is unlikely to be the best way to spend your time.

That is where Jeeves comes in. Jeeves is meant to be a Cyberspace butler, capable of effortlessly answering the most commonplace requests for on-line information. You can find Jeeves at the Ask Jeeves Web site (, an alternative to traditional Web search engines and one that is rapidly rising in popularity.

What is fascinating about Ask Jeeves is that it allows you to perform sophisticated searches by merely asking a question in plain English. Tracking down Seattle hotels is as easy as typing "Which hotels are in Seattle?" and hitting the GO button.

Once such a question is entered, Jeeves will attempt to match the question with the millions of question templates available in its knowledge base. The best-matched template questions are then displayed to the user. Once the most appropriate of such template questions is selected, the user is taken directly to a web site that provides the question's answer.

For example, the question "Is it raining in Seattle?" will be matched by Jeeves to the template question of "What is the weather forecast for the city of Seattle, WA?" Selecting that template will then take you directly to the Seattle five-day weather forecast. So, within two clicks, you'll have the information you need. Say goodbye to arcane keyword searches and hours of unproductive Internet surfing.

Overall, Jeeves is capable of answering some six million possible questions. These range from such pressing informational issues as "Is Madonna's mole real?" to the more metaphysical issues of "Am I in love?" and "What is the meaning of life?" (although Jeeves' answer to the latter question leaves much to be desired.)

The Web sites that provide Jeeves' answers are high-quality informational sources selected by the Ask Jeeves staff. In fact, many of the answer-providing sites are the leading sources of on-line information regarding those subjects. As a result of this selection, the answers provided tend to be extensive and satisfying. Without Jeeves, it would take hours of Web surfing to track down such informational sources.

Jeeves, of course, is not a panacea for the difficulties of the Information Age. Questions outside the scope of Jeeves' knowledge base, such as those of a particularly specific or technical nature, tend to leave the user stranded in the glut of Internet information. Although Jeeves attempts to compensate for this behavior by submitting unfamiliar questions to popular search engines, this hardly provides a particularly useful mechanism for searching.

On the whole, Jeeves is an incredibly useful source for on-line information. And it's a site that I would encourage everyone to get to know.

If not for anything else, asking Jeeves the question of "Where can I find a clock counting down to the year 2000?" is sure to give you an up-to-the-minute update on how soon a lot of computers will start breaking down. But more on that later.

For now, happy surfing. And keep a lookout for further TechTalks. As this is my first, please let me know what you think. You can also send me ideas for later columns, so that the experience of reading TechTalk is enjoyable and interesting. Elliot Shmukler '00 is a junior living in Adams House. He is The Crimson's general informational guru and can be contacted by email at

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