Ask.com Readies Investments To Supplement Q&A Search

Dough-LeedsAsk.com will likely make a series of investments this year to support its question-and-answer platform, capitalizing on the company's core technology. It has begun to test application programming interfaces that give developers the building blocks to design mobile and desktop applications.

The move would create a network of app developers supporting services, publishers and more.

"We are at the beginning stage," said Doug Leeds, Ask CEO, who described the API project as a test, or "a little bet," that could become interesting. "We're at the stage as a company where we're going to have to make a couple of big bets, and a bunch of little bets."

While Leeds declined to talk about "big bets," such as acquisitions supported by its deep-pocketed parent company IAC/InterActiveCorp and capital generated from the search business, he did explain how "intelligent investments" in technology would make sense. While IAC has made a few acquisitions, the search business has not invested in companies to supplement what it does.

Ask will enter new areas by analyzing existing ideas. This type of thinking will support the company's assets, such as the ability to drive traffic to pages through a variety of traffic streams, monetization and "the ability to create our own content," Leeds said.

"It all comes back to the Q&A proposition," said Leeds, who believes in thinking outside the box. "This supports a bigger market than anyone has tapped for mobile, third-party sites and social." Leeds defined social as the ability for the app to improve as people use it, meaning building on the influence or the effect of the network.

For example, Foursquare built games to support social check-ins, and now check-ins live without the games. During a college panel at the MediaPost Search Insider Summit, students told the audience they check in to tell their friends when they arrive even if there's no interest in becoming the mayor of the location. The benefit comes from one friend knowing another friend arrived.

The comScore Top 50 Properties ranked Google Sites in the No. 1 spot for March with 189.7 million visitors, followed by Microsoft with 178.9 million, Yahoo Sites with 175.4 million and Facebook.com with 158.9 million. Ask Network climbed to the No. 7 position with 92.3 million unique visitors.

Leeds also described a two-screen project being developed through a company program that devotes Friday afternoons to employees who want to explore building applications and developing strategies. It's similar to Google's 80/20 theory that allows employees to work on their own pet projects for 20% of the time.

For example, the two-screen app being developed by Ask employees syncs up with live entertainment and sporting events on television; it serves supplemental information. It could become a small feature in a more sophisticated app.

IAC/InterActiveCorp will release earnings on May 2. Wall Street expects a 31 cent per share profit, up 40.9% from the year-ago quarter.

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