“A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.” Oscar Wilde, 1892
The very best search engine on the Internet died today. Early this afternoon, Ask.com announced the layoff of 40-key employees and a radical shift in its focus and development. The property is still active but, if new CEO Jim Safka’s comments to the Wall St. Journal are any indication, the search engine itself is, as of today, lifeless.
“Mr. Safka outlined a new strategy for the search engine that aims to increase the loyalty of its core customers. Instead of trying to build products that would appeal to “the digerati” or “West Coast elite,” as Ask had been, he wants to focus Ask on meeting the needs of its core audience, predominantly women who use the site to ask questions about topics like entertainment and health. To do that, he says the company will launch new products and enhance its technology through efforts like pulling in more community-generated answers.” source: WSJ.com
Though Ask was much smaller than its rivals Google, Yahoo and LiveSearch, it was widely regarded as the strongest results generator among the “Big4″. Its biggest problem, the general public simply never used it. Over the past two years, parent company IAC had invested millions in development and advertising but, unfortunately, the improvements and marketing never caught traction with the searching public.
Now Ask.com, formerly and affectionately known as “The little engine that should”, won’t. It appears to be relegated to focus on a niche group of users, predominantly women in the mid-western and southern United States, a strategy that has been unsuccessfully pursued by several portals before it.
One of those who lost his job in the layoff was Gary Price, chief evangelist for Ask. Gary is a dear friend to the search marketing industry (and a dear friend of mine). He and former CEO Jim Lanzone championed the extraordinary improvements at Ask over the past two years. Now both have been shown the door by IAC.
Somehow, I don’t think IAC realizes what they have thrown away.