Like a father disowning his own child IAC’s Barry Diller seems to have all but written off the search engine he paid almost two billion dollars for a few short years ago (update: see Barry Diller statement below). According to TechCrunch, Diller told a conference audience (partial paraphrase) that today Ask had “no value.”
I don’t think Ask.com is going to gain search share; everyone copied us . . . Ask has no value inside of IAC, so why would it add value as a standalone site?
That can’t be correct because Ask contributes substantial revenue to the company’s Media & Advertising division. But when Diller’s IAC acquired the site in 2005 in an all-stock deal, he thought he would be able to grow Ask’s market share by 5 and maybe even 10 points. There was much skepticism at the time of course but apparently not enough on Diller’s part.
In 2007 Ask was ahead of the “universal search” curve when it released Ask 3D. Google and Yahoo followed with their own blended search offerings. But from a “look and feel” standpoint Bing is the one most similar to Ask’s earlier 3D design.
In accordance with that, one of the other things that Diller reportedly said at the conference today was that all the other search engines copied Ask and so there’s effectively no way for Ask to differentiate and grow. Several hundred miles north Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is making a similar accusation: Google is copying Bing.
Diller’s “copied by everyone” remark seems something of a cop out. Ask insiders, no longer with the company, previously told me that IAC corporate declined to sufficiently invest in core relevance. So while there were novel UI innovations basic search relevance lagged Google.
In addition, by arguably over-monetizing SERPs and neglecting relevance, assuming that’s accurate, Ask really sealed its own fate as a search also-ran.
Returning to the question of whether Ask has any value now, the company signed a $3.5 billion search-ads deal with Google in 2007. It has a term of five years and so would be still worth something like $1.5 billion. At the very least Ask.com also has some still-valuable search technology that a third party might want to acquire.
Despite Diller’s dismissal and disappointment, the Ask staff are still working to make the engine competitive. Most recently Ask launched Q&A as a way to differentiate from Google & Bing.
Postscript: IAC provided the following statement on behalf of CEO Barry Diller clarifying his comments made earlier today at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference:
I did not say that Ask has no value inside of IAC, period. In response to a specific question, I said that many of our assets are not ‘valued’ in the stock, and Ask is one of them…I was asked specifically if Ask would be better off with us or another company or standing alone. In the context of that question, I said that since it wasn’t valued in IAC – like so many of our businesses, because we have so many – that it would only be ‘valued’ stand alone.