Lose Diller, Not The Ask.com Engine
In case you thought the lack of Friday Recap last week was due to me still traveling and not getting into the office until late, it wasn’t. I didn’t Recap because of the rumor that the IAC is ready to drop the Ask engine* and start outsourcing their search to Google. Seriously, it was like being shot in the face. Should the day ever come when Ask throws in the towel…well, let’s just say Susan isn’t going to let me near the blog for months in fear I’ll start ranting and simply never stop. Also, please have someone stop by my apartment to make sure I am there and not, say, chained to the Ask headquarters or Barry Diller’s yacht. Thanks.
Search Engine Land has now officially (and thankfully) reported the rumor as false, but I was upset enough about the speculation to be keep an eye on things through the weekend. The post that especially caught my eye came from Search Engine Roundtable this morning when Barry reported that the early sentiment from the forums was that people wouldn’t mind if Ask suddenly disappeared and rolled over to the great behemoth that is Google. Barry even went as far as to say that loyal Ask users are "losing patience" and that while he hopes Ask holds on, he "hopes less" these days.
Oh my goodness. That sound you hear? That would be my heart breaking over one of Ask.com’s biggest brand evangelists jumping ship.
I’m usually in agreement with Barry Schwartz, but I totally disagree here and I was actually quite surprised to hear someone like Barry take that stance. Barry has always been a steadfast supporter of Ask.com. I think the loss of Jim Lanzone has shaken up a lot of people, and Barry seems to be one of them.
Don’t get me wrong. Is it a punch in the stomach every time Ask does something stupid, fails to capitalize on a golden opportunity or when Google gets the fame for creating blended search? Yes, it does. But that comes with the territory of being an Ask head and true supporters aren’t going anywhere. Just take a look at the reactions over at WebmasterWorld and the Cre8asite forums. Do those people sound happy about the possibility that Ask is about to be swallowed up and Google-ized? I don’t think so.
The truth is the search industry needs a small, innovative engine like Ask. Ask is the kind of company that keeps everyone else on their toes. They give Google complete concepts to steal from and everyone else ideas to "borrow". You know all those search refinement tools we’re seeing sprout up? Those were ideas first tested in the Ask engine. How freakin’ awesome is Ask3D? Wicked awesome! Who has the cooler company culture – Ask or Google? I’d say Ask. They’re not perfect, and arguably not even competitive, but Ask is doing a lot of things right. Let’s not pretend their loss would not be felt simply because users are "frustrated". Google users are frustrated, too. Searchers in general are frustrated.
If Ask disappears and Yahoo is on the verge of falling apart, what does that leave searchers with – Google and Microsoft? And maybe a little Mahalo? I want more than that.
I don’t think Ask.com is going anywhere. They’ve put too much work into their new algorithm and Ask3D to call it quits now. All that said, I do wonder if they’ll ever get anywhere with the way they’re going right now. There will always be one thing factor holding them back – their CEO Barry Diller.
Truthfully, Barry Diller never got Ask.com. He’s always looked at the engine as something that was holding IAC back. Fine. Then give it to someone who is passionate about it and who will challenge things. For all this grassroots support Ask is supposedly "losing", they also still have a hell of a lot of it left. People want to see Ask succeed. Get rid of that ad guy you just put in charge (no offense to Jim 2.0) and give the engine back to someone who knows search and its users. Getting rid of Jim Lanzone was the worst decision Barry Diller could have made for the engine or the Ask brand. It was a decision based on advertising dollars and didn’t take into account what Ask is really about – its users and the brand evangelists. Barry Diller will never know what it takes to grow Ask because he’s not one of those people. Someone needs to get the engines out of his hands, ASAP.
*Okay, maybe the lack of Recap was just a little bit due to the fact that Lisa didn’t get into town until Friday afternoon. She was, however, very saddened about the Ask rumor. She hearts Ask.com and wants it to stay around forever.
[Normally, this is the point as an editor where I'm supposed to tone down Lisa's ranting but in this case, rant on. People need to quit picking on Ask! --Susan]