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Wednesday, May 25th, 2005

Bouncing the Bulter?

Is the Butler finally being dismissed now that Ask has been purchased by InterActiveCorp? Rumour has it Barry Diller, IAC CEO is preparing to rename the Ask Jeeves search engine, paring its name down to a single word, ASK. This wouldn’t be the first time the jovial Butler has been dumped in Ask Jeeves’ history. Just after the dot-com crash of 2000 Jeeves was laid-off. He was brought back after former Ask CEO Skip Battle found him drinking by the Oakland docks, slumped over his last remaining friend, the Pets.com sock puppet mascot.

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Wednesday, May 25th, 2005

Trouble at the ol' ODP

The Open Directory Project is the largest human edited directory of web sites and documents existing online at this time. While many search engines such as Google, Yahoo, Ask and MSN maintain larger databases of electronically spidered sites, the volunteer editors at the ODP read, sort and classify all submitted content before it is added to their search-database. Started in 1998 in reaction to difficulties webmasters had getting their content into Yahoo’s then human edited directory, the Open Directory Project was a simple and effective idea. Read more…

The Butler is growing bigger again. This morning, Ask Jeeves announced the acquisition of the Excite European network from Italy’s Tiscali SpA., giving Ask open access to the rapidly expanding European search market.

“This deal is a next step in Ask Jeeves’ European expansion strategy,” said Steve Berkowitz, CEO of Ask Jeeves, Inc. “Access to Excite’s pan-European operational infrastructure and market knowledge will accelerate our European growth initiative and provide an instant revenue stream from additional users and advertisers.” Read more…

Is MSN better than Google? How does Ask Jeeves stack up against Yahoo? Which of the Big4 search firms produces the most relevant results? Those questions are difficult to answer as what is relevant to one searcher might not be particularly relevant to another. Search engines are the tools we use to thread the eye of the needles found in the universal haystack we know as the Net. Read more…

Yahoo has officially dropped the Overture brand name from its paid-search products. The company announced plans to drop the Overture name in the North American market at the beginning of March. Yahoo will phase out use of the brand internationally in the coming months though they will retain the Overture name in Japan and South Korea. Read more…

It was only a matter of time before someone took the problems associated with click-fraud to court. In February, a group of advertisers quietly filed a lawsuit against Google, Yahoo, Time Warner (AOL), Ask Jeeves, Disney, Lycos, LookSmart and FindWhat. Read more…

Ask Jeeves has been sold to Internet media conglomerate InterActiveCorp (IAC) for nearly $2-billion. Rumours about the sale, which started circulating early Sunday with a short story in the Wall St. Journal, were confirmed this morning by both IAC and Ask Jeeves. The transaction, which is worth $1.85-billion in stocks, represents the largest search related sale in the past two years.

Ask Jeeves has had a strange history. Starting as a natural language search engine that attempted to match specific questions with precise answers, they quickly moved to being a keyword-triggered search engine. Their famous mascot, Jeeves the Butler has served the firm for most of its life, with a brief retirement four years ago, and is one of the annual attendees (in hot-air balloon format) in New York’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Jeeves stands in front of Teoma, the brains behind Ask Jeeves. Generally regarded as one of the best algorithmic search tools available, Teoma (which is owned by Ask Jeeves) provides the search results displayed by Ask Jeeves. If it wasn’t for Google’s hold on name-brand popularity, Teoma might well have emerged as the #1 search engine. Ask.Com has been rumoured to be working on a paid-performance search tool to rival Yahoo and Google. The purchase also includes Ask Jeeves brand properties, Excite, Ask.com, and iWon.Com.

IAC owns a number of Internet businesses including the popular online travel business Expedia, which it plans to spin off sometime this year. It also owns the Home Shopping Network, Hotels.com, Citysearch Web Directory, Ticketmaster, and the online mortgage provider LendingTree. The acquisition of Ask Jeeves gives IAC an entry into the rapidly growing search engine market with ownership of the world’s fourth most popular search service.

Earlier this month, IAC indicated it would purchase Cornerstone Brands, a massive Internet and catalogue retailer for a rumoured $720-million. Ownership of Cornerstone would give IAC further entry into the consumer retail market with a wider variety of products and services.

The purchases of Ask Jeeves and Cornerstone Brands, combined with IAC’s already heavy ownership of several sector-specific search services raises concerns that Ask Jeeves will be transformed into a vehicle for IAC vertical content, to the exclusion of other search options. From a business perspective, it would make sense for travel searches to return Expedia-generated results. Ask Jeeves CEO, Steve Berkowitz commented that the merger will permit users to “search, find and complete a task all within the boundaries of one company.” From a search perspective however, such a move would likely backfire as it did for Lycos two years ago.

Investors welcomed the purchase, with Ask Jeeves shares climbing 14% at the opening of trading today. Increased confidence in Ask Jeeves might be attributed to other moves IAC and its CEO, Barry Diller have made lately. Diller has long been known as an entrepreneur willing to spend large sums of money to buy big-ticket websites selling directly to the consumer. His strategy appears to be working. Last month, IAC announced sales of $6.2-billion across its stable of websites in 2004, a 15% increase over 2003 sales. This morning, IAC also announced the opening of a gift-recommendation search engine as a competitor to Amazon called Gifts.com.

By combining its various services under the same URL, “Ask Jeeves”, IAC is betting online consumers will naturally migrate to the place that offers everything, “…within the boundaries of one company.” It currently owns many of the Internet’s most active web properties, some of which have been operating since before the tech-crash five years ago. They are most certainly anticipating a migration of search users towards sector-specific “vertical” search tools such as Gifts.com, Hotels.Com and whatever comes from their pending purchase of Cornerstone. Ask Jeeves and IAC had already jointly entered the local-search market with IAC’s Citysearch powering Ask Jeeves’ local search option.

Search engine watch has printed December 2004 stats from comScore Media Metrix detailing the market share of the major search engines going into the new year.

Google continues to dominate, generating 48% of all search results either directly or by providing results to smaller search firms such as the Excite Network. Yahoo follows a distant second with 32%. The pre-proprietary MSN came in third with 16% with Ask following fourth at 2%. Read more…

Why is it that when one search engine does something, every other search engine jumps on the bandwagon? From the introduction of similar new products and features to the coincidental timing of product introductions, the major search engines frequently tend to trip over each other’s feet. This tendency is getting mention in the mainstream media with an article from tech-writer Seth Hansell in today’s New York Times noting “Search Sites Play a Game of Constant Catch-Up“. Read more…

The search engine marketplace underwent a number of changes in 2004 with the number of independent sources nearly tripling by year’s end. Twelve months ago, Google was the dominant search tool feeding information to almost every other popular search engine in one way or another, including its biggest rivals Yahoo and MSN. Going into 2005, Google still dominates the search engine market but the world’s most popular search tool has lost a great deal of ground to its former bedfellows. Yahoo introduced its own algorithmic search engine early last spring followed by MSN’s beta release of their own search tool in the autumn. Over the span of one year, Google’s control of organic results dropped from approximately 76% to the 45% share it owns today. Read more…

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