Ask Jeeves Gains on Voice Alliance

Ask Jeeves (Nasdaq: ASKJ) was up 1 11/32 at 16 13/32 early Monday after the Emeryville, California-based company announced a plan to sell businesses a way to handle customer inquiries over the phone using speech-recognition technology.

Through an alliance with Nuance (Nasdaq: NUAN) and General Magic (Nasdaq: GMGC), Ask Jeeves will develop ways to improve the accuracy of voice-enabled systems. The services will combine Ask Jeeves’ natural-language processing, Nuance’s speech recognition, and General Magic’s voice applications and hosting services.

The companies said they expect to make the new services available in the first quarter of next year. Ask Jeeves intends to market the voice-enabled service to telecommunications carriers and voice portals.

After the voice-activated services is in place, customers will be able to call companies and ask questions over the phone. According to Ask Jeeves, customers will be able to get “immediate and relevant answers.”

“As we discovered with and with our more than 125 corporate customers, people prefer to ask for the information, products and services they are looking for in full sentences, not keywords,” said Ask Jeeves chief executive officer Rob Wrubel. “With Nuance and General Magic, we will bring that same human method of interaction to the telephone.”

Noted Gerard O’Shea, customer relations management services analyst at the Yankee Group, “This partnership has the potential to refine the accuracy of speech recognition — and may make a significant improvement in companies’ ability to voice-enable their Web investments and other business-critical information.”

Separately Monday, Ask Jeeves said it will include a “Holiday Gift Advisor” on its Web site. The holiday service asks users a series of questions aimed at discoverying what kind of gifts they might want to buy, and then provides a list of options.

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