Web's favorite butler heading for the lights of Hollwyood


In murder mysteries, the catchphrase often heard is "The butler did it."

On the Web, if you're looking for something and find it, chances are the butler actually did it -- and efficiently, too.

I'm referring of course to Jeeves the butler, the smartly dressed mascot of the Ask Jeeves search engine.

If you haven't used Ask Jeeves (www.ask.com), you're in for a treat.

Using Ask Jeeves requires only that you type in your question in plain English. No special Boolean algebra, no special punctuation or search engine-speak to fool with.

And if you aren't familiar with Ask Jeeves now, chances are you're going to see a lot more of the Web's favorite butler.

Ask Jeeves Inc. has signed Hollywood's Michael's Ovitz to push the Jeeves character into mainstream America, making him as universally known as other pop icons, like Ronald McDonald. The media possibilities are wide open, which might include games, toys, books and animated cartoons for TV.

Ask Jeeves also offers a corporate service that allows users to use the same type of interface to access or search specific company information or databases.

ONLINE TROUBLES. The free Encyclopedia Britannica Web site -- despite promises by its Chicago publisher -- is still down at this writing.

What was promoted as one of the year's biggest Web sites has become a lesson in the Top 10 Things Not To Do When Launching A Web Site.

Worldwide demand swamped the company's Web servers, forcing them to take the site down until its capabilities can be enhanced. Ten days later, there's still no Britannica.com online.

At least three apology notices have been posted on the site's home page (www.britannica.com) since the outage began.

"I now believe we will be able to serve a significant number of users beginning sometime [this] week," said a notice from CEO Don Yannias about the site's current status.

The real cures for the site's lack of capacity are still weeks away, Yannias said. "As we've discovered, that's a lot of people, and reaching that capacity is a big job, but we're committed to getting there as fast as we can."

National Geographic.com's new "Map Machine" online feature is popular with users -- and causing trouble for the company's Web servers.

Within two hours of the Map Machine's online debut, the Web site was getting swamped by demand, according to a National Geographic official.

The feature's debut on National Geographic.com was set to coincide with the release of a new printed world atlas that sells for $125.

The free-of-charge Map Machine has all the information in the printed version, plus immediate updates and maps not found in the book.

Take the Map Machine for a spin at www.nationalgeographic.com.

SPORTS FANS OR FANATICS? The powerful communications and networking potential of the Internet is filtering into the ranks of collegiate sports programs -- and creating quite a stir.

One of the sports officials at the University of Florida has turned to the Web to find out the latest information on teams the Gators will be facing in the coming weeks -- using both newspapers and non-official sources.

Other college teams have learned the value of surfing Web sites and chat rooms for the latest scoop on opponents -- from team lineups to new tactics and plays.

In fact, Louisiana State University coach Gerry DiNardo recently closed his team's practices after he learned from Georgia officials that LSU fans were posting non-official team information about practices and lineups.

Did the information help Georgia? DiNardo thinks so. LSU lost to Georgia at their last meeting this season.

``The biggest problem is not just the info that gets out there, it's also the speed with which it gets out,'' said LSU's DiNardo.

Other SEC coaches have agreed that fans' Web sites sometimes cross the line, making information available that can also be used against the team by its opponents.

Unofficial sites aren't always insignificant, poorly operated or amateurish Web pages.

Check out GatorCountry.com and see how a site by a pair of Florida fans can amass a wealth of information. The site gets up to 300,000 hits a day during the season -- and three times that many during recruiting season.

eBEEMER. Sport-utility vehicles are hot commodities these days, and BMW has put its first X5 SUV up for auction on the ever-popular eBay auction Web site.

What's the incentive to buy it on eBay?

The auction closes in eight days, and the winning bidder will get his on Dec. 1st -- nearly two full weeks before the X5 hits dealer showrooms.

Plus, there's the added celebrity and notoriety of having "the first one."

BMW is donating the money raised in the auction to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

Despite its base price of just under $50,000, BMW already has 5,000 orders for the X5.

Bid early and bid often!

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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