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Ask.com Throws in Towel on Search Development




Ask.com is always an interesting subject when it comes to search engines. Every once in a while the IAC property will announce another iteration of itself, advertise it for a while then go away until we see the anemic search share numbers each month where we don’t even mention their ‘share. It’s been denounced as an arbitrage play in the past. The latest version of the ‘search’ entity is it’s Q & A approach started in July.
However you slice up Ask.com these days it appears as if search engine developer is now off the table.

Bloomberg reports

Ask.com, the Internet search engine that media mogul Barry Diller acquired for $1.85 billion to compete with Google Inc., is cutting 130 engineering jobs and conceding much of its search business to competitors.

Ask.com, a unit of Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp, is dismissing engineers based in Edison, New Jersey, and in Hangzhou, China, and ceasing work on its algorithmic search technology, according to Ask.com President Doug Leeds.

The search unit will consolidate its engineering operations at its headquarters in Oakland, California, and focus its resources on developing its online question-and-answer service. Twenty of the engineers currently working in New Jersey will be asked to relocate to Oakland, the company said.

So is this the end of Ask.com as a search engine in the traditional sense? Not quite as we get this from paidContent.org

Ask.com already has a long-standing agreement with Google, which powers the search ads on its site. The speculation is that it will now power results too. The ad deal is set to expire in 2012.

So if that’s the case, Google will now have bingahoo surrounded in those monthly search results. The combined 6 or 7 or whatever percent of the search traffic that Aol. and Ask claim will be Google powered thus covering the bottom part of the search ladder. Since everyone loves to combine bing and Yahoo numbers (using deceptive metrics in many ads, I might add, to get that combined number to 33% of the total market rather than the 27% is actually holds) why don’t we start doing the same for Google by punching up their ‘share’ by the combined totals of Aol. and Ask. It’s only fair right?

So why is Ask going this route? It’s obvious that they are a drag on IAC performance and in their own blog they just have some to realize that when you come to gunfight with a pen knife the results are usually not so good.

We know that receiving answers to questions is why Ask.com users come to the site, and we are now serving them in everything we do. Unfortunately, this absolute focus means that we need to stop investing in things outside of providing users with the best answers, including making the huge capital investment required to support algorithmic web search development. This investment in independent web search is not required by our strategy, nor is it required in the marketplace. We have access to multiple third party structured and unstructured data feeds that, when integrated, can provide a web search experience on par with what we are able to produce internally, at much lower costs.

Wait what was that? A logical and rational approach to why taking on Google is insanity in the search space? Too bad they didn’t come to this conclusion a lot of years ago. Think how far along they could have been as they head down whatever path they are heading down.

So it looks like the end of the line for Ask.com and ‘search innovator’ to be forever disconnected when describing the site. In the war of attrition that is the search engine game we are now left with the big boys and folks like Blekko who have loaded up their slingshots in hopes of taking out Goliath. In case you didn’t know, David needed God’s help in his effort. I suspect that something bigger than just a “great idea” is going to be needed to change the search landscape from here on out.

Your thoughts?

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/philipsegal Philip Segal

    “A logical and rational approach to why taking on Google is insanity in the search space?”

    ‘Nuff said in my opinion. It’s too bad Microsoft can’t see that throwing billions of dollars at an attempt to prop up a brand name is ridiculous; I don’t care how many times they pay Gossip Girl to say “Bing it” – it ain’t gonna happen. People think it’s cute at best.

    Short of another game-changing underlying idea like PageRank (and maybe not even then), it’s Google’s game to lose.

    Google will always own the search space. I think the more interesting way to look at the future is, how much share or user’s time and attention will search have in the future. Facebook is eating into Google’s space, and there might be other ideas in the future that will also.

    But search will always have it’s purpose, and Google will always dominate in regards to fulfilling that purpose.