Ask.com will launch a social network Tuesday that allows people to poll the community for the best possible answer. The engine hopes to tap into the approximate 87 million people visiting the search engine monthly. The project has been in the works for seven months.
The social network is built on Ask's search technology to classify and rank answers. Parent company IAC and Ask employees recently began testing the service, but the social site begins accepting more participants today as an invite-only network. The community will vote on the best answers to determine the highest quality.
The three-section search box in the social community asks "what can we help you with today. Phrase the request as a question and type it into the search box before hitting return. Keywords will appear in the box that reads: "We'll get you answers from people who know about ... ". Those keywords link to profiles of people willing to answer questions.
The question remains in the user community for seven days. If the answer gets a thumbs up, the question and answer moves to the top of the page. The profile also provides insight on all the questions the person answered or asked since becoming a member. Moderators on the site and technology will flag inappropriate words, questions and answers.
The company has hired a room full of moderators to police the site. A "careful and slow rollout" should ensure quality, according to Scott Garell, president of Ask Networks.
Ask also will add a mobile application in about two months, along with the ability to share answers on Facebook. Apple's iPhone will get the first mobile application, followed by Android.
Searching and asking a question are different. The former doesn't always provide the best solution for the latter. It's the complex questions where Ask will excel, similar to the lifeline on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire," Garell says. "We think the category is worth more than a billion dollars in revenue," he says. "That's taking the questions that get asked in the search engine and multiplying it by the revenue we make for searches."
As the social Web emerges, Garell believes the category will continue to grow and combine social with search, as more content comes online.
Businesses will have an opportunity to sign up and participate to answer questions. At first, Ask will not charge brands for "sponsored answers," but that could change in time. Another potential revenue stream could come from paid-search sponsored listings.
The site will also build in social signals, the ability to share content and answers on Facebook and Twitter. Not today, but in time.
Ask.com gets four times more questions as a percent of total searches typed into the box than any other search engine, Garell says. "Remember the old Ask Jeeves," he asks. "People came to us for questions, but the technology didn't live up to the expectations."
In the early part of 2001, Ask bought a search engine and moved more toward search, and this year continued to build on that platform.
Ask Network ranked No. 4, capturing 3.6% of the search market in June 2010, according to comScore. The site remained flat sequentially.
Until now, Ask has been able to answer about 60% of questions, up from 25% during the past year -- serving them up at the top of the search page on the main site. The company has been working on this piece of the platform for the past year. Answers come from published information across the Web. Proprietary technology scans the Web, extracting and ranking answers, but the community will include unpublished information, moving the site to a 90% fulfillment and accuracy rate, as a long-term goal.