Well, it must be that time of year. You know when the leaves change colors and Ask changes their design? At some point they have to settle on something. They are actually starting to act like your “different” cousin who shows up at family functions with a new body piercing and a bad attitude just for shock value. You pay attention for a minute then you realize that it’s actually really sad that she doesn’t get it.
Ask.com is starting to feel that way in the realm of search engines. Once full of promise and ready to take on the big boys of search (which is now just one big boy and Ask partners with them anyway; dare to guess who?) they are now becoming a bit of a search sideshow. In today’s WSJ we learn that a new and improved Ask.com is on the horizon (see screenshot). There are two points that are interesting here. First is Barry Diller’s spin on this redesign:
“To call it an all-new Ask is wrong; it’s an evolution of Ask. I think it’s going to help us primarily in retention and frequency. That is really the goal.”
Ok, this begs to “Ask”; retention and frequency of what? I don’t use the engine personally and know few who do. Secondly, Ask is now the largest of five pieces of IAC / Interactive Corp. broke their offerings into in August. Purchased for $2 billion in 2005, that’s a lot of dollars to recoup. When the big overhaul of Ask to Ask3D (I didn’t even know it had a “code name” until this article) the company spent $100 million on advertising. That’s some serious weight behind and an effort. Problem is it netted them virtually nothing. It feels like they can’t get beyond being just a footnote in the search industry. To that end they plan to spend a whopping $5 million to introduce the latest “evolution” and test consumer response.
As Johnny Cash sang “I hear the train a comin’, it’s rollin’ round the bend” and with Ask this will most likely become a train wreck. The executives that were interviewed were pointing to small gains in market share (i.e. corporate speak for we are NOT irrelevant). Lastly, it is still a financial success due to its relationship with another search engine that provides their ads. You guessed it: Google. With the Yahoo! deal (which is on hold) and this arrangement with Ask, Google is starting to look more and more like the ridiculously wealthy relative who feeds money and opportunity to the less fortunate in the family just because they have a heart. I don’t suspect that Ask will ever be a real player in search. Just ask anyone you know if they use it. That’s evidence enough.