IAC Cuts 8% Of Ask.com & Kills Search Engine

IAC’s Ask.com to Cut Staff, Outlines New Search Strategy from the Wall Street Journal reports IAC has cut 8% of Ask.com’s workforce, by letting go 40 people. Not only that, the Wall Street Journal says IAC is changing the strategy of the search engine to “focus to better answering search queries posed as questions.”

Ask’s new chief executive, Jim Safka said “as we revamped things, we had redundancies,” explaining they “are reorienting the company around” areas they can grow. So, in my opinion, instead of building out core technologies to compete in the search space, Ask.com will now go back to their Jeeves stature and become a Q&A engine for married women, its core audience.

It is clear to me that cutting an already overworked staff shows that Diller is clearly not interested in competing against Google. In fact, the Wall Street Journal clearly says this, by reporting they are focusing exclusively on women asking questions about health and entertainment.

There does seem to be some truth to the rumors that IAC is dropping Ask‘s technology. Although we do not know the jobs of the 40 employees who were laid off, we do know they are changing their technology focus. Despite the statement Ask.com gave us saying these rumors were false, there is some truth to it.

This just leaves so much in the air about Ask.com’s future as a major competing player in the space. To me, this shows that we now only have Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft competing in the space. Like I said at the Search Engine Roundtable, you will soon see more and more Ask.com enthusiasts lose their support for the brand and the people behind the brand.

Gary Price, the esteemed former news editor for Danny (who I replaced when he joined Ask.com), has announced he is one of the forty to be laid off.

Postscript: paidContent.org feels one likely scenario is that Google will in fact power Ask.com’s search results. paidContent explains that the Ask.com & Google partnership from November 2007 enables Ask.com to syndicate Google search results. Due to this, it might be cheaper for Ask.com to lay off more of the search staff and slowly introduce Google search results into the Ask.com user interface. At this point, I am suspecting Nicholas at Ask.com, who gave us the statement, had no idea this was coming.

Postscript 2: As you can tell, this is bugging me, so I am digging into more articles.

Ask.com search site to cut jobs, realign strategy from Reuters is the typical article spreading around. In it, it talks about the percentage of women users at Ask.com, and I quote:

The company found that about 65 percent of its user base are women, with a high concentration of users in their late 30s in the U.S. Midwest and Southeast. That contrasts with the wider search market, where women account for closer to 48 percent of users.

The 65% figure seemed way off — I thought I heard comScore say it was at 54-56%. I emailed Hitwise for some stats and they told me, “As of the four weeks ending 3/1/2008, 57.85% of U.S. visits to Ask.com were from Females.”

Postscript 3: Just to be clear, IAC did not sell of their search engine, nor did they begin syndicating Google to power their search engine as of today. By saying “kills search engine” in the headlines, I meant Ask.com is being refocused to build out an engine that answers questions tailored to women searching on health and entertainment. To me, that implies Ask.com will no longer seriously compete in the search space with search giants like Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft. I also would not be surprised if we see Google begin to power the Ask.com organic results within the year, based on where I see things leading.

Related Topics: Ask: Business Issues | Ask: Web Search | Channel: Industry

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About The Author: is Search Engine Land's News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry's personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here. For more background information on Barry, see his full bio over here.

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