Jeeves Is A Pervert
When good search engines go bad

Press releases boast about the 92.3 million questions answered by the "natural-language" search engine Ask Jeeves in the last three months -- and more importantly, its $44 million IPO. But it won't change the hard truth. This "kindly Internet butler" is kinky, incompetent, and unforgivably demented.

See also...
... by David Cassel
... in the Whoa! section
... from September 7, 1999

It's not surprising that a query on "Hot Pussy" brings up cat sites. But sometimes when users want information, the searching butler finds Zen.

"Where can I find X-rays of things people stuck up their butts?" I asked. "10 stupid things people do to mess up their investments," replied Jeeves. Jeeves also answered this question with "" (who knew?) and a list of "Career Busters."

Internet stocks are as much a triumph of marketing as functionality -- and the "Jeeves" persona was carefully crafted to give the company's site a brand-identifying personality. But sooner or later, the hype for the searching butler clashes with real users' expectations. Cheery introductory text explains that "Jeeves loves -- nay, predicates his very existence on -- helping you answer these questions."

Okay, Jeeves, my question to you: How can I get laid?

Jeeves answers: "Where can I find free sexy pictures of blowjobs, facials, and other assorted 'glory' stuff." He also suggests pictures of "glory hole lovin', hermaphrodites and other 'sexual freaks of nature,'" as well as "sexy dwarves and midgets…"

Not only is Jeeves an idiot -- he's also a pervert.


The help page does warn that "Jeeves has an incredibly broad, deep knowledge of what's on the Net." Maybe that's why his eyebrows are always raised. In response to the same question, Jeeves also suggested Web pages about fisting, guillotines, inflatable animals … and inflation. Even more unsettling, the company icon, with his striped suit and red tie, also pointed me to his answers for the question, "Where can I find information about acquiring a prostitute in [long list of foreign countries]…" Each question was next to a red "Go!" icon.

Lesson number one: if you want a hot date -- don't ask Jeeves.

In most cases, Jeeves is simply collating results from other search engines. (Jeeve's recommendations for getting laid -- compiled in November -- were from AltaVista.) Strangely, those queries got better answers from "Ask Jeeves For Kids." Its closest match for the question "How can I get laid?" was "How To Get Started In Hollywood." (Yahooligans suggested "Take Our Daughters To Work Day," and Lycos bragged "If We Don't Have It, We Can Get It"). But by summer, things had only improved a little. August tests showed Jeeve's answering the question "How can I get laid" with sites offering gourmet kosher recipes and lyrics to the song "I Can't Sleep."

Only Human

Granted, Jeeves is only human -- or, built by humans, in any case. The site's informational page concedes that Jeeves doesn't know everything. (Though it prominently features answers to questions like "Where can I find Investor Relations information?" and "how would I advertise on Ask Jeeves?") But there's still a clear gulf between the grassroots experience and the "Ask Jeeves" publicity department. Jeeves gamely gives all comers his robotic best shot -- and the creepy results approach the surreal.

Question: Why is Tori Spelling such a bitch?
Answer: The Belly Button Page

Question: What's the best search engine on the Web?
Answer: Daily Bikini Start Page -- the Daily Bikini Models

Question: Do you have your head up your ass?
Answer: English-Latin phrases: I think that Elvis is still alive...

Even knowing the explanation -- that words on selected Web pages randomly matched stray words in the questions -- leaves users pondering results that are consistently eerie.

Question: When did Nixon's dog Checkers die?
Answer: How can I magically measure my mortality?

Question: Where can I get some high-grade weed?
Answer: How can I control weeds in my garden?

It's not clear if this will affect Jeeves' popularity -- but the near misses are certainly unforgettable. One user looking for a place to buy used textbooks was referred to a site selling used panties. Results like these may ultimately explain the site's July press release boasting high user loyalty: morbid curiosity. "This is a great site to use if you don't REALLY need to know the answers to your questions," a newsgroup poster commented recently. "Strongly suggest using at work when you want to waste company time..."

Misses Are Hits

Jeeves casts a wide net -- and maybe that's why users keep coming back: to see what loopy response Jeeves' sub-human logic will suggest next. The hit-or-miss quality wonderfully reflects the wild unpredictability of the Internet itself, delivering some of the same wired thrills. What serendipitous non sequitur will Jeeves cough up next?

Question: Which is better, Pepsi or Coke?
Answer: Where can I find a concise encyclopedia article on cocaine?

Question: Are you kidding me?
Answer: Ask Mr. Bad Advice!

With a recent campaign of magazine ads, Jeeves is destined for a spike in popularity -- creating either fans or detractors, depending on his performance. Imagine all life's nagging questions, floating without answers, forming an irresistible vortex pulling users to this untried avenue of wisdom.

Tell me, O Jeeves: What do women really want? "Prime Time Vomitorium," Jeeves answers.

If the site's success depends on how well the site answers visitors' questions, there may be rough waters ahead. According to Jeeves, women also want the following things:

State Republican Parties
Linux DOOM
Rev. Sun Myung Moon -- WHERE GOD AND MAN MEET
Chahm's Page of Pi
Interracial, Sex, Cum, Facials, Black, Jungle Fever, Girls

All The Wrong Places

Can we mere mortals ever hope to fathom the ways of Jeeves? "The 'Question Processing Engine' provides a high degree of intelligent question matching using semantic and syntactic processing ..." the site explains. But try asking Jeeves if he's gay, and he returns an error message "429 File None of Your Business… You have a lot of nerve even clicking on this link." Like a search engine from Westworld, Jeeves is already getting kind of surly.

Question: Why are you so stupid?
Answer: Isn't stupid is as stupid does?

Has Jeeves already slipped his corporate masters? "Every link in the Ask Jeeves knowledgebase has been selected by an editor," they boast, "not by some automated process." So which editor picked the "glory hole lovin'" page? In any case, some users may now feel they know the answer to the question: Who killed common sense on the Internet? The Internet butler did it.

David Cassel is Interactive Media Editor for GettingIt.