D.C. site gears up for questions

Visitors to Washington, D.C.'s government Web site soon will be able to search it just by asking a simple question.

Jeeves Solutions, the enterprise software division of Ask Jeeves Inc., will launch a question-based search engine on the Web site (www.dc.gov) July 15.

The service will be similar to the Ask George search engine on the Washington state Web site (access.wa.gov). That search engine is designed to let users ask questions in natural language and get relevant answers about the government's services and organizations.

Like Ask Jeeves and Ask George, the D.C. search engine eventually will have a name, and it will ask, "What can we help you find?"

Jeremy Rosenblatt, the chief technology officer for Jeeves Solutions, said that the natural question-and-answer approach is the way to go. "Our goal is to get people to their final answer in three clicks or less," he said.

In a crisis situation, constituents need answers, and they need them fast, Rosenblatt said. Although call centers can be helpful, they often are understaffed, and information is not always readily available, he said. "Self-service avoids hold times as well as providing immediate information to the user," Rosenblatt said.

Michele Mehl, the senior communications manager for Jeeves Solutions, said that tourists in the D.C. area will be able to access information on cultural attractions as well as many other places of interest. Mehl also provided sample search questions that may be beneficial for residents in the area:

* Where can I find more information on neighborhood schools?

* How can I obtain a federal tax identification number?

In March, the Navy selected Jeeves Solutions to power its Distance Support/Anchor Desk Web site (www.anchordesk.navy.mil). By using Ask the Chief, service members can search for answers about such topics as technical and logistics support, distance learning, chaplain services and quality-of-life services.

As for the future, Jeeves Solutions is working with several other government agencies, Rosenblatt said.

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