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Teoma Who? Ask.com

Published August 14, 2007

Last Updated: 1/8/2004

One search engine that really caught my attention at the search engine strategies conference in Chicago was Teoma. Teoma is the search engine that powers Ask Jeeves, also knows as the ask.com search site. Teoma has made several improvements to its engine over the past year or so that has drastically increased its index and the quality of results generated. They have a unique method of ranking sites that Teoma likes to call "authority". In addition, they have a Teoma toolbar and many of the advanced search features that other search engine have.

In the upcoming paragraphs I will cover the following:

- Teoma's History and Background
- Teoma's Search Technology
- Teoma's Features and Advanced Search Functions

Teoma's History and Background »

Teoma's History and Background

Teoma's founder and vice president of research and development is a Professor of computer science from Rutgers University, Apostolos Gerasoulis, Ph.D. Professor Gerasoulis along with his team of computer scientists founded Teoma in April of 2000. Their single goal was to build a search engine that looked "at the Web in terms of subject-specific communities." Teoma had the advantage of joining the search engine wars late in the game. This allowed them to look at what the current engine did right and more importantly, what the other engines did wrong. Teoma.com was not officially launched until a year later in April 2001.

On September 18, 2001 Ask Jeeves, Inc. acquired Teoma, paying over 1.5 million dollars. On January 9, 2002 Ask Jeeves announced its successful integration of the Teoma search technology into Ask Jeeves. Ask Jeeves reported an increase user satisfaction of 25% and a site abandonment rate of 15% less after this integration. In 2002 Nielsen//NetRatings reports Teoma has grown 175% making Teoma the third most popular search engine in the United States. Darcy Cobb from Ask Jeeves reported on Jan. 8, 2004 that "Teoma's year-over-year growth (2002 to 2003) for the number of searches is 51%."

Teoma 2.0 was released on January 21, 2003. The new version boasts improvements to overall search result relevancy, additions to search tools and more advanced search functions. Teoma currently powers Ask Jeeves primary organic results and receives its paid search results from Google AdWords.

Teoma's Search Technology

Teoma adds a new layer of "authority" to search results through something they call "Subject-Specific Popularity." Google's PageRank, simply explained, ranks pages based on the quality and the number of inbound links to a site. Teoma ranks sites based on related communities of sites that are "organically organized" and link to each other. It then determines which sites are most relevant based an authority factored, that is where Subject-Specific Popularity comes into play. Subject-Specific Popularity determines the authority of a site based on the number of pages that link to a page within the same subject. Teoma provides a nice analogy to why this is important. They write, "picture yourself in your garage, in front of the opened hood of your severely out-of-commission pick-up truck. You need help with this major repair, and you can either ask your uncle, who owns two cars but has never held a wrench in his life and happens to be visiting (similar to using other leading search technologies) or you could phone your best friend, who has a degree in applied mechanics and builds automobiles from the ground up in his spare time (similar to Subject-Specific Popularity). The choice is quite clear."

When Teoma 2.0 was released it provided improved relevancy, more accurate communities, spell checking, "Dynamic Descriptions", more advanced search tools and an expanded index. Ask Jeeves reports an increased "user pick-rate" of 22% and a site abandonment decrease of 28% since the upgrade. In addition, Teoma received a relevancy grade of "A" from Search Engine Watch, adding them to the elite group of search engine that include Google, Yahoo and MSN. By improving Teoma's analysis of "Communities" they were able to increase the relevancy of pages by better evaluating authoritative pages. In addition, the "refine" search option found on Teoma.com enables searchers to easily narrow down their search results. Many search engines have Web-based spell check, Teoma added this in its 2.0 version. Teoma 2.0 added other enhancements and features as well as increased its index by over 500 million URLs.

Teoma's Features and Advanced Search Functions

Teoma provides numerous methods to both refine your search and locate subject specific resources. Conduct a search on search technology and you will find on the right side a "Refine" option that presents you with useful "refinements" to your search query. In addition you will find a collection of "Resources" directly below the refinements option that easily allows you to locate "expert" sites on search technology. You will also see that Search Engine Watch is one of those results. You will also see the sponsored listings at the top, provided by Google and you will find the Web page results directly below. Google is the first result for that keyword and we all know why.

In addition, Ask.com allows you to search for anything and it attempts to provide exactly what you are looking for without the use of any "tabs". For example, I did a search on picture of chair at Ask Jeeves and guess what? It gave me actual pictures of chairs, this chair is a nice one. Ask Jeeves called this technology Natural Language Processing (NLP). For a complete listing of technologies and features provided by Ask Jeeves please visit: http://sp.ask.com/docs/about/tech.html. For advanced search tips from Teoma, please visit: http://sp.teoma.com/docs/teoma/about/advsearchtips.html.

Teoma has come a long way since April 2000 by achieving its rank as the number three search technology. Its unique method of providing relevant and accurate results makes Teoma and its partners stand apart from the other search engine technologies. As the features and index improve, Teoma will continue to succeed by adding partners and a more satisfied user base. It will be interesting to follow Teoma and Ask Jeeves over this coming new year and see how it competes with the other major search engines.

Sources: Teoma.com, Ask.com, and About.com

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Barry Schwartz is the CEO of RustyBrick, a New York Web service firm specializing in customized online technology that helps companies decrease costs and increase sales. Barry is also the founder of the Search Engine Roundtable and the News Editor of Search Engine Land. He is well known & respected for his expertise in the search marketing industry. Barry graduated from the City University of New York and lives with his family in the NYC region.

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