During the bubble heyday, Web search technology company Ask Jeeves (NASDAQ:ASKJ) was one of the first stocks I ever purchased. I eventually sold it as a write-off against taxes. Since seemingly everybody at Fool HQ remembers my "Jeeves-speriment," I was more or less conscripted into covering the company's third-quarter earnings announcement last night. But enough about me.

Today's Ask Jeeves is a welcome update from the company I once owned all those years ago. It's cleaned up its search interface for a more modern, user-friendly look, delivers simpler results, and through its 2001 purchase of Teoma Technologies has acquired a search service some consider a legitimate rival to Google.

It continues to invest in R&D as it battles to keep its search service relevant amid constant competition. And in July it sold its Solutions division, a provider of search services to third-party websites, to focus its energies on Web searching -- a welcome sign of optimism in its core business.

All that, combined with an improving market for online advertising, has been great news for the company that has gone from darling to punchline to serious contender. (We've so far published three of a four-part series of discussions with Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) CEO Terry Semel discussing Google, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), the search business, and more.)

The financial momentum these and other factors have helped create have attracted investors to Ask Jeeves in droves: Over the last 12 months, its shares have risen like a tuxedo-wearing phoenix from the ashes to the tune of a gain well above 1,000%. Its market capitalization, meanwhile, is moving back toward $1 billion. (The shares were up some 5% at last check this morning.)

Now Ask Jeeves can boast not only of a growing top line and user numbers, but also operating and net profits -- it's delivered the latter for four consecutive quarters now, while working diligently to get internal costs under control. It even delivered about $12 million in free cash flow in Q2. (Unfortunately, a cash flow statement wasn't included in the Q3 earnings release.)

With improving business fundamentals and a good-looking balance sheet, Ask Jeeves looks to have made it.

Dave Marino-Nachison can be reached at dmarnach@fool.com.