- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2000

Forget asking Jeeves. Jamie Hamilton, 34, says his company has the answers.

Mr. Hamilton's Answer Logic Inc., a two-year-old D.C.-based company, last week made the initial release of its software that answers questions for Web users seeking information.

"Ask Jeeves has a set of customers. We think we can deliver better answers and lower costs," Mr. Hamilton said.

Answer Logic's software is a corporate product intended to improve customer service and minimize the amount of human effort required to find answers to Web users' questions.

The company so far has two clients for its software: information technology portal ZDNet and Rockville-based tech company Morebusiness.com, a resource center for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Answer Logic is marketing its software to businesses that use the Web for customer service. The goal is to help customers find information on line so they don't have to turn to a customer service worker.

That's because Web self service costs as much as 30 times less than phone calls to call centers and 10 times less than e-mail inquiries, according to a June report by Forrester Research Inc., a Cambridge, Mass.-based technology industry research company.

Not only do companies want consumers to find answers on the Web so customer service-related costs are kept down, but consumers are willing to go to a company's Web site with questions, Mr. Hamilton said.

"We think the customer satisfaction angle is extremely important. People want to find answers on the Web," he said.

Unlike search engines that provide links to documents that are likely to contain an answer, question-answer software like Answer Logic's attempt to provide direct responses to questions.

Ask Jeeves uses employees to sift through documents and write responses to what they anticipate will be the most frequently asked questions about a topic.

Answer Logic's software matches words in questions to information stored in a database filled with words from the English dictionary and to words specific to a company like directions in an operator's manual for a computer.

Answer Logic uses each word in a question, rather than keywords, to find an answer from reams of material.

"That's how people want it to work. You should be able to interact with your computer and have it understand a lot of what you want," Mr. Hamilton said.

Hadley Reynolds, director of research at Delphi Group, a Boston-based e-business industry analyst group, said that Ask Jeeves may have popularized question-answer software but that the detailed responses that Answer Logic software provides give the D.C. company an advantage.

"There just is not a whole lot of industrial strength question-answer software out there," Mr. Reynolds said.

Steve McClure, vice president of research at International Data Corp., a Framingham, Mass., tech industry researcher, said it looks like Answer Logic has a good product.

"Either the technology they have will help people find their answers or it won't. I think it will," Mr. McClure said.

But Ask Jeeves still has the brand-name recognition. It's also branching out into corporate markets, where Answer Logic hopes to carve its niche.

Answer Logic's first customers are in the finance and information technology industries, but it, too, will branch out, Mr. Hamilton said.

Answer Logic, a privately held company with 85 employees, has investments from venture capitalists CMGI Ventures and Novak Biddle Venture Partners. The company got $10 million in second-round funding in March.

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