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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 October 2005, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Bid to save search valet Jeeves
Ask Jeeves character, Ask
Jeeves has been associated with the Ask site since its inception
Search firm Ask is coming under pressure to keep its Jeeves character as its public face.

A campaign centred around the Save Jeeves weblog hopes to demonstrate to Ask the depth of feeling about the iconic valet character.

The phasing out of Jeeves came about following the $1.85bn acquisition of Ask by Inter-Active Corp in May 2005.

Explaining its decision, Ask said the Jeeves character confused users about how the search site has changed.

Lost leader

Inter-Active Corp boss Barry Diller announced that Jeeves was to be phased out during a Goldman Sachs investor conference in late September.

Ask has put no date on when the phasing out will begin but it is thought likely that the valet will soon start to become less prominent on the site and in its marketing.

P G Wodehouse, BBC
P G Wodehouse wrote more than 10 million words of fiction
Comic novelist P G Wodehouse brought the Jeeves character to life in a series of books where the knowledgeable and perceptive valet helped a series of gentlemen, most famously Bertie Wooster, cope with life's vagaries.

The axing of Jeeves has prompted the creation of an anonymous weblog by a former Ask employee who is an ardent supporter of the Jeeves character, despite an insistence on calling him a butler rather than a valet.

The Save Jeeves blog author describing the axing of Jeeves as a "terrible mistake", adding that "the butler is the most human face, the most welcoming character to greet the curious internet searcher".

There were good reasons for keeping the character, wrote the blogger, because it has attracted a loyal group of users that prefer Ask Jeeves to other search sites.

"People in the business world have become blinded by their own immersion in the internet, and they seem to have forgotten the massivly [sic] large chunk of the population that still sees computers and the internet world as a very intimidating place," said one entry on the blog.

Rachel Johnson, European marketing vice president for Ask, said that it was currently investigating what the character meant for the search site.

"There's a lot of passion about Jeeves and we expected that when we started to investigate," she said.

"The passion is for the humanity he is adding," said Ms Johnson.

Bedside manor

In its investigation into its image, she said, Ask was trying to find a way to preserve this empathy without relying solely on Jeeves to do it for them.

Screengrab of Save Jeeves blog
The weblog is becoming a rallying point for supporters
"This is a big move for us and one we want to do the right way," she said.

No date has been set for when the Jeeves character will start to be phased out and Ms Johnson said that Ask was still listening to users.

"The one thing we have never done is never listen to the consumer," she said. "We would be idiots if we weren't listening."

One group that may not lament the loss of the link between Ask and Jeeves might be P G Wodehouse fans.

Tony Ring, editor of the P G Wodehouse Society's quarterly magazine Wooster Sauce, said that although the founders of Ask Jeeves counted themselves as fans of the writer's work, that link has been eroded over time.

Not least, said Mr Ring, because now the site can be used to search for subjects, such as pornography, that Wodehouse never wrote about.

"In Wodehouse, a bed was for strewing frogs in as a punishment, or hiding under in country houses, not for getting up to that sort of thing," Mr Ring told the BBC News website.

"But," he added, "from the point of view that it might get some people, especially the younger, asking 'Who was Jeeves?', it is a shame that they don't maintain the link."

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