After my recent post about Ask.com’s recent layoffs and change in strategic direction, I had an interesting chat to Nicholas Graham, spokesperson for Ask.com. Graham clarified a few details amid plenty of speculation that Ask.com would be retiring its search functionality entirely.
“AP ran a story that suggested we were retiring our search technology — a story that just wasn’t true, and one that they in fact retracted.”
True or not, it certainly fueled the rumor mill, and combined with the recent layoffs, has placed a big question mark over whether Ask.com’s new strategy is a good one — a predicament that has had Graham putting out fires ever since.
“The fact is that we have a very loyal user base — in fact, our research reveals that our core users, which happen to be primarily female, use Ask.com to search for three types of information: reference, health, and entertainment. What’s interesting is that these users in fact use Ask.com three times more than any other search engine,” commented Graham.
“We are definitely still innovating. We still plan on being a great search engine — the best, in fact, for users who are seeking answers. In fact, we’re hiring for some key roles to help support this new strategy.”
There’s certainly something to be said for the fact that if you try to be all things to all people, you’re guaranteed to fail, and I give Ask.com credit for deciding to focus on its core users rather than its competition. But what percentage of users who type a query into a search engine are specifically searching for an answer? (as compared to, say, pictures, products, services, phone numbers…) How do you define an “answer”, anyway? And is it reasonable to expect users to use one search engine to find “answers”, and another for everything else? (personally, I just use Google for everything).
Two years ago, when the focus of the search engine was expanded and Ask.com announced they would be tackling Google head on, they didn’t seem to think so. For Jeeves’ sake, I hope they’ve found the answer this time.