Week of November 1, 1999
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Q&A: Jeeves Flunks the Real Estate Test

Real estate decision-making is a tough business, and it's getting progressively tougher as decision-making time frames get shorter and shorter. Wouldn't it be nice, one sometimes muses, if we had an online guru who could instantly answer our questions?

Wait. Perhaps we do. Why, it's Jeeves! After all, most of us have been visually and aurally assaulted with the message to "Ask Jeeves" (www.ask.com), who's depicted as an online butler who stands at the ready to answer any and all questions.

" 'Ask Jeeves,' " the site explains, "allows you to ask a question in plain English and, after interacting with you to confirm the question, . . . takes you to one and only one Web site that answers your question."

Hmmm. The "one and only Web site," eh? This looked promising. Perhaps this was the welcome end to the wearying hunt-and-peck of going through cheery search responses like, "AltaVista found about 2,257,494 Web pages."

So we did ask Jeeves. And we asked him about real estate, starting with a few basics to get the old boy warmed up.

As it turns out, however, asking Jeeves turned out to be a little like the dead-end conversations that astronaut Dave had with HAL the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey. And we mean the conversations after HAL turned bad.

Here, interspersed with comments, is how it went in our real estate Q&A with Jeeves.

    Insider: "Where can I find expertise on corporate real estate?"
    Jeeves: "I know the answer to the following questions: Click the Ask! button next to the best one."

Comments: The key phrase here is "to the following questions." These, you see, are the questions to which Jeeves knew the answers.

    Jeeves: "What does the financial term 'corporate' mean? Where can I find real estate listings in 'Alabama'? How can I find the realtor 'Admiral Realty'?"

Comments: Not exactly what we had in mind, Jeeves. But wait. For both "real estate listings" and "realtor," Jeeves also offered a pull-down menu of other options, and one of them was Cushman & Wakefield. Ah ha, we foolishly thought, perhaps we're on the right trail. Alas, this online conversation followed:

    Insider (selecting an onscreen 'Ask!' option):
    "How can I find the realtor Cushman & Wakefield? "
    Jeeves: "Sorry, I cannot answer your question at this time."

Comments: Okay, so maybe this was something along the lines of the old Real Estate Contacts Shuffle. Maybe if Jeeves didn't know, he knew someone who knew. At least that's what we thought when we read further down the onscreen page . . .

    Jeeves: "I have also found these links through search engines: . . . Where can I find 'real estate services' online?"

Comments: Ah ha again. We seemed to be getting warm, so we clicked on the site and found . . . www.real-estate.com, a site dedicated to residential real estate.

Okay, we'll ask Jeeves about something a little more specific . . .

    Insider: "What is the total worldwide value of corporate real estate assets?"
    Jeeves: "I know the answer to the following questions: . . . Why are Earth and other bodies in space round? Where can I see a map of the world? . . .
    "I have also found these links through search engines: Where can I find 'real estate services' online?"

Comments: Whoa, Jeeves. Not that link again. We've already been there, done that, found nothing. By now, we were beginning to think we'd checked into the online Bates Motel. But wait . . . perhaps Jeeves, a man of regal bearing, was a philosopher, not some mere statistician. So we asked . . .

    Insider: "How is real estate best managed as a corporate asset?"
    Jeeves: "I know the answer to the following questions: . . . How can I find the realtor 'Admiral Realty'? What does the financial term 'corporate' mean? Where can I find real estate listings in 'Alabama'? What does the financial term 'asset' mean?

Comments: Perhaps Jeeves was fond - way, way too fond -- of the Socratic method. So we asked a question with no interpretative wiggle room . . .

    Insider: What is IDRC? (That's the International Development Research Council , the world's preeminent association for corporate real estate executives. Site Selection is IDRC's official publication.)
    Jeeves: "You asked: 'What is IDRC?' I think you may have misspelled something."

Comments: Misspelled my . . . Okay, literal-brain boy:

    Insider: What is the International Development Research Council?
    Jeeves: I know the answer to the following questions: . . . What does the financial term 'research and development' mean? Where can I see pictures of 'research and development'? Where can I find assistance for legal research on 'international treaties'? Where can I find the Web site for the airline 'AB Airlines'? Where can I find the grammar or style reference 'Researchpaper.com'?

Comments: International treaties? Airlines? Style references?

At this point, sad to report, we simply snapped.

    Insider: Jeeves, you're one truly exasperating portal-person! Who the hell are you?
    Jeeves: I know the answer to the following questions: . . . Where can I find a concise encyclopedia article on 'hell'? Where can I buy L' Enfer?

Comments: L' Enfer, in case you're curious, turns out to be a French film that was made and released in 1964 and remade and released in 1994. It translates from the French as "hell."

We took that as a sign. And by then we weren't inclined to ask Jeeves about anything. While logging out, though, we heard inside our stir-fried head a conversation from 2001 between Dave and HAL that seemed to fit our experience:

Dave: "Do you know what happened?"
Hal: "I'm sorry, Dave, I don't have enough information."
Dave: "Open the pod door, Hal."
Hal: "I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that."
Comments: At least HAL understood the question.



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