As of this writing, there are five top Internet search engines: Google, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, and Ask.com, and while Google and Yahoo! get a lot of the press (particularly lately), the Ask.com search engine is a rather interesting engine that deserves a closer look. This article will cover some of the highlights in its 12-year history, from its start as Ask Jeeves to its innovations, as well as the most recent developments behind the scenes.
In 1996, “Ask Jeeves” was founded by David Warthen, who had founded EyeGames – a children’s video game company, and Garrett Gruener, a venture capitalist. At its start, the concept of the Ask.com search engine was to allow searchers to type questions in natural language in order to get results, rather than to type in a random string of keywords (although that would work as well). The Jeeves character, based on the butler in the Jeeves and Wooster books by P.G. Wodehouse, was designed as the company’s main identifier. (However, the company did not ask Wodehouse’s estate for permission to use this character and legal action was threatened, though the issue was later settled for an undisclosed amount (1).) Jeeves was phased out in 2006 (2) in a humorous manner, with the engine saying he was retiring (3), and the company was renamed simply Ask.com and the search engine was reborn.
Ask3D and New Innovations
In June 2007, Ask, still one of the top Internet search engines, launched “Ask3D.” Part of this new direction was to allow users to add “skins” – or customized images – to the Ask.com search engine home page. The 3D offering also meant that results would be customized based on the user’s search. This meant that, in a similar manner as Google’s Universal Search concept, a user’s search for a location would get not only pages about that location but also maps and details about it. If the user searched for music, he might also be able to listen to song clips or read news stories about the artist. In addition, the Ask.com search engine included a preview feature for its search results. When available, users can click on an icon of binoculars next to a result and see a small screen capture of that page. Plus, a new toolbar was added to the left-hand side of the page, giving searchers options for narrowing down a search.
Ask isn’t shy about going after its main competitors – Google and Yahoo!, two of the top Internet search engines. In early 2007, the company ran a series of ads, primarily in England, without identifying itself as the entity behind those ads. The ads touted an “Information Revolution” and declared that Internet users needed more choices – for a short time, users searching on the Ask.com search engine for Google were given a link to information-revolution.org – an anti-Google site sponsored by Ask (4). This initiative was not well received (5,6), as it was seen as attacking the very users it sought to attract.
Also, in mid-2007, the Ask.com search engine introduced “Ask Eraser (7).” This was Ask.com’s response to searchers’ concerns about privacy and security breaches – a simple way to opt in and have one’s searches erased automatically. The site explains it by saying, “When AskEraser is enabled, your search activity will ordinarily be deleted from the Ask.com search engine servers within a number of hours (8).” The concept is sound, but many bloggers (9) are not impressed (10).
What’s Going On Today
Today, Ask is searching – pun intended – for a new direction as it tries to keep its small piece of the search engine pie or regain its state of being at least one of the top Internet search engines. Layoffs are happening, although the company is holding onto Teoma, the technology that powers the engine (11), and the company is looking to focus on a specific subsection of searchers (women, although the company isn’t specifically saying this (12)) rather than to try to serve as a competitor to the other top Internet search engines, like Google and Yahoo!.
It remains to be seen whether or not the Ask.com search engine can hold onto its existing niche and/or expand its search engine market share. The company seems to be working on finding a direction and a focus, but it just hasn’t yet. I will update you in future articles as to what the status of Ask.com is and whether or not it has managed to remain a key player in the industry.
- techcrunch .com/2007/12/10/ask-lets-you-delete-your-search-history-yawn/
(C) Medium Blue 2008