Ask.com refocuses business to target core users

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March 6, 2008 4:10pm - Ask.com sat down with BetaNews Thursday afternoon to publicly dispel some misunderstandings regarding Wednesday's news, as well as provide additional clarification on our original story.

Primary to this, Ask.com spokesman Nicholas Graham said that while Ask.com certainly does have a large female demographic, it was "not becoming a women's site." Rather, the new strategy going forward will pay closer attention to this group, while also attempting to expand it outside of this demographic.

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Graham also stressed that the company will not be abandoning its Teoma search technology, nor will it be adopting Google's search platform within its own. "We're still going to be a search engine," he said. "Google is a partner, but they're also a competitor. We can't be all things to all people."

Ask.com plans to continue to innovate in the question-as-a-query space, and he said that the company wishes to continue to "render answers in a smart and meaningful way." Its users have come to expect this, Graham reasoned.

Finally, on the subject of job cuts, the company is not necessarily cutting its workforce. Graham pointed out that the company is hiring once again, and it's likely that these jobs will be completely replaced by "those in line with our new strategy."

The 40 jobs lost were across all divisions and did not fit into the company's revised plans going forward, he explained.


About 40 employees of Ask.com will be laid off, and the company looks set to bring its search engine back to its roots of answering searches framed as questions.

The cut is about 8 percent of the workforce. It also seems to signal that the company is surrendering to its larger competitors by attempting to broaden its demographic through adoption of the format of other Web search engines.

Its share of the pie has pretty much remained stagnant, sitting at around four to five percent of the market over the past year or so. With its parent company IAC in turmoil, it appears that Ask and IAC CEO Barry Diller see this battle as one it can afford to lose.

If Liberty Media is successful in court next week in wrestling control away from Diller, and IAC becomes fractured, Ask could become the company's saving grace, say analysts.

Ask in January appointed Jim Safka as its new CEO to replace Jim Lanzone. At the time it was said that IAC made the move to prioritize its search engine, but this week's news seems to suggest that isn't the case.

Rumors did surface that the company was considering job cuts, but it also suggested that Ask may drop its own search technology in favor of partnering with Google. This seems to not be true considering Google's technology would not work well with Ask's question-as-a-query roots.

Safka told the Wall Street Journal Tuesday that the company would look to return to its core female-skewed audience and focus on them, who generally use the site for information on topics such as entertainment and health.

New products and priorities will be put in place to support this effort, based on Ask.com's core technologies, he continued.

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