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ASK.com: Will the Real Jeeves Please Stand Up?
Thursday, March 06, 2008
I've been watching the story of ASK.com progress for years now. Ever since I began using the then dubbed "ASK Jeeves" search engine in the late 90's. I like ASK. I liked the fact that they dare to be different. They still have the best Search Engine Results Page in the business... but then again that does not appear to be winning over the masses. But did you know that Google was beginning to take note? so much so that they began to follow ASK's lead (think Google Universal Search here). So if Google was taking note, you would think that others would follow. ASK just needed time and a few good people to try out their Search product. People just don't appear to be willing to give ASK a chance.

For you see it appears as though everyone has written ASK off. In fact Danny Sullivan over at Search Engine Land has delivered his own obituary for ASK.com. Even those that were critical of the ASK TV commercials are in shock about IAC's move with ASK. I myself feel a need to refuse to believe that this is the end of ASK, but I'm losing hope fast.

The world needs ASK. You see as much as I like Google, a Google, Yahoo, Microsoft three ring circus just doesn't sit well with me as a user of search. Frankly I'm sick of Google Ads appearing all over my results pages. When I use a search engine I am looking for information, not an ad for a "divorce lawyer", not an ad for an Apple iPhone, or for Cirque de Soleil tickets. While I may be looking for information about these things I am definitely not going to a search engine to go search online ads. Yahoo is in a state of turmoil and when it comes to search, Microsoft is a disaster.

ASK was different, they were fresh and innovative and were trying to make a dent in the search landscape... then something happened. They had a great man at the helm in Jim Lanzone and IAC decided to let him go. Big mistake. You Jim Lanzone understands Search and what the search experience means to many. As Danny Sullivan put it:
I don't know who exactly coined the phrase "going beyond 10 blue links," but I know the guy who popularized it -- Jim Lanzone. And make no mistake, Jim failed to dramatically move Ask in the way that many might have been hoping for. But he understood search. He has many friends in the industry not because he's a nice guy but because he was passionate about improving the search experience. Search is hurt by his departure, but his departure was only the harbinger that Ask itself would be leaving the stage.
I still do not understand the decision to let go of Jim Lanzone. It appears that it was because ASK does not feel like being a search engine any more. The reports from this past week have been disturbing for die-hard ASK fans like myself. ASK had some cool stuff in the works. What's going to happen to those items? It's like ASK has suffered a major concussion and forgot who they were and where they were going. They are heading in a new direction.

The man who replaced Lanzone, Jim Safka stated on Tuesday that "... Ask.com will eliminate about 40 jobs, or 8 percent of its work force, and is reevaluating its product and marketing lineup.." Do you know what Safka based this decision on? Well he took a look at who actually uses ASK and apparently found that about 65% of ASK's user bases were women. Safka goes on to suggest, "... If we can do a better job of understanding who these customers are and answering their questions, we will grow..." How about if you took a moment to understand what Search is about and about what searchers are looking for? Let me get his straight, you want to turn ASK into a Search (we won't call it an engine) but a search scooter for women? (no offense to all of the women out there). As Rob Hof over at Businessweek.com states: "... But turning itself into a search site for “married women looking for help managing their lives”? What’s up with that? Well last year we do know that ASK was upgrading the capabilities of Teoma with more social aspects of relevancy in queries with their Edison Algorithm. Was this meant to focus on the 65% female user base? Are we overreacting to the news of ASK's shift of focus as they become the Oprah Winfrey of search? Unlikely...

Will the Real Jeeves Please Stand Up?

As I ponder IAC's decision, I feel like it is truly the end of an era. I thought that Barry Diller had more drive and passion when it came to ASK. Instead he is quitting... he's going to stop trying to compete with Google.

According to Forbes,
In November, Diller annonced controversial plans to break IAC into five different companies. In January when Liberty Media chief executive John Malone, an opponent of the penta-plan, tried to get Diller bounced off IAC's board, Diller called Malone "insane" and referred to Malone's lawsuit as "hogwash" and a "sideshow." Liberty Media controls 29.9% of IAC.
At 66, Diller has kissed ASK goodbye. He maybe should have waited before putting ASK out to pasture... he may have more in common with Jeeves than he thinks. Reports suggest that Barry Diller may be out as CEO of IAC as early as next week. Perhaps Safka could be soon to follow?

ASK Me One More Time

I've said it a number of times, I think that ASK is a great search search engine with huge potential. I would hope that the powers that be reconsider their so called "strategy" with ASK. ASK while not a Google beater had potential to be a strong #3 player in the search engine world. ASK it's been fun. Even as there is but a flicker of hope that you'll continue to compete as a true search engine, I'll visit your search results (grave) often. Godspeed.

This topic has inspired a ton of feedback and discussion as seen with the following stories:
  • Ask.com Follows Jeeves Into Exile, WebProNews
  • Ask.com: Innovation doesn’t always pan out, Between the Lines
  • Diller Goes After Housewives - Forbes
  • All Things Must Pass; Moving On from Ask.com, Gary Price
  • RIP Ask.com?, Greg Sterling
  • Ask.com is Dead, Metamend
  • IAC's Ask.com to Cut 8% of Staff, Wall Street Journal
  • Ask.com Cuts 40 Jobs, Gary Price Among Those Laid Off, Search Engine Journal
  • Is ASK Finished? - SEO Space
  • Goodbye Ask.com: A Brand Evangelist Hangs It Up, BruceClay Blog
  • IAC Retooling Ask, Cutting 40, Silicon Valley Insider
  • Ask.com search site to cut jobs, realign strategy, Reuters
  • Ask.com Does About Face, Concentrates On Women, Profy
  • Ask.com to Become Women’s Site, Google Blogoscoped
  • Ask Abandons General Search Engine Strategy, ResearchBuzz
  • Apparently ASK Doesn't Always Have the Right Answer, StepForth
  • Obit: A West Coast Digerati Deadpools Ask.com, Search Engine Land
  • Ask.com scales back in makeover, AP
  • Search Community Reaction to Ask.com New Search Strategy - Search Engine Roundtable

Labels: ,

posted by Jody @ 12:26 PM  
  • At 4:26 PM, Blogger Rob said…

    I agree with you. Ask's algorithms were and still are much better than anyone, google's included. They had authority and community concepts BUILT IN to their ranking algorithms 4 or 5 years ago, before anyone even know what a virtually based community was aside from forums.

    It will be too bad to see Ask change into something else because I think they'll end up going through an identity crisis in a few years, just as Yahoo is now.

    And the other scary thing, which no one seems to be mentioning is what happens if/when Google results become visible on AOL AND Yahoo AND Ask?? It's great if you have the organic Google rankings, but if you have a new site, or a site in a competitive industry, your job just got a whole lot harder AND it's going to cost you more to compete.

    Hopefully Microsoft's Live can pick up the slack and give Google a run for their money...

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