Diller Overhauls Ask.com

by , Feb 28, 2006, 6:00 AM
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Kicking off the coming out party for the revamped Ask.com search engine, IAC Chairman and CEO Barry Diller said his company is in the search business for the "long term," and that Ask will focus on marketing differentiated features to consumers. Diller spoke during a keynote at the Search Engine Strategies Conference & Expo in New York on Monday, emphasizing that Ask is focused on delivering "everyday search" and that in the end, consumers will decide whether the overhauled features work for them.

In a 50-minute conversation with Danny Sullivan, editor of SearchEngineWatch.com, Diller said that while some consumers may miss the iconic butler who added a "nice, emotional touch," the engine needed to drop some "baggage" that wasn't going to let it "play in the center of the search world." Ask.com has undergone a redesign and rebranding effort, and will debut a TV brand campaign on March 8 with significant online support starting March 12. The campaign's theme is: "Use Tools. Feel Human."

Jim Lanzone, senior vice president of search properties, demonstrated the engine's new stripped-down interface, featuring a "tool box" at the right-hand side of the page. Consumers can launch a variety of searches directly from the page, including dictionary, image, encyclopedia, local, and maps.

Dictionary searches are the No. 1 search on Ask.com, according to Lanzone. With the new Ask.com, consumers can rearrange and edit the search tools. Ask is also offering Web-based desktop search and a maps product that will offer the ability to access detailed itineraries. Consumers can also add up to 10 locations on the Ask map, and even "play" the directions. The maps feature is "almost like putting search on speed dial," Lanzone said.

The former Ask Jeeves has a paltry market share in search--in the 2 to 3 percent range, according to Nielsen//NetRatings, while category leader Google has snared more than 46 percent. Diller was circumspect about the uphill battle: "We don't expect great earnings to come from Ask for some time, but we wanted to invest in search. We are certainly serious about it." He also acknowledged that breaking consumers of their Google habit is going to be tough: "I don't think it's breakable--not overnight. But if the idea is good, the world allows it. It will happen--[but] not easily."

Asked about the most surprising thing he's learned in his search endeavors, Diller said: "I've functioned all my life in narrative until QVC and HSN [Home Shopping Network], so entering this world--what's intriguing is that it's not passive, it's interactive." He went on to say that search has a different vocabulary with "damn too many acronyms for me. I'm never going to be a technologist, but I do understand what ideas are about. I knew things were going to change."

Diller says he's ready for change, including search leaping off the desktop: "It'll be everywhere. It doesn't matter what the screen is. They'll all converge in one way or another."

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