According to an interview Search Engine Watch’s Kevin Newcomb had with Ask spokesperson Nicholas Graham, the search engine is still committed to search and denies allegations that Ask is “dead”. In fact, apparently the search community overreacted.

Kevin has more of the interview feedback in his article but these quotes sum up Ask’s position nicely:

“The idea that we’re going to become a women’s site is just plain wrong. We know that a sizable group of our core user base is women, and we know they come to us for a certain kind of search: to get answers, often in areas of reference, health and entertainment,” Graham said.

“We want to address the answer-seekers, who put things in a search box in certain ways,” Graham said. “We think it’s smart to identify who our most active users are. It’s smart to identify the kind of searches they’re looking for, and focus on building that up. We want to be the first place our core customers come when they’re looking for answers.”

Ask explains their move as a mere focusing of their brand on a strong target market. Now I am not saying this doesn’t make sense; perhaps it is “smart” for the bottom line (as Nicholas Graham so proudly put it). But this explanation ignores a few fundamental issues that belie “smart” in the broader sense of the word:

  1. Ask let go of major Ask supporter and icon Gary Price. Gary represented a beacon of hope for Ask and its future as a competitor in mainstream search. By cutting Gary they cut one of the few vital lifelines they had to the search community.
  2. Ask let go of Patrick Crisp, the Director of Public Relations at Ask. Patrick was a fantastic spokesperson for Ask in the SEO and search community; he listened to suggestions and earned my respect by being very candid in his responses. Without Patrick, Ask has lost a very real asset and they must know that; which speaks volumes to their lowered commitment or at the very least to their lacking management team.
  3. Ask has chosen once again to refocus on the Jeeves-style Q&A model. Originally this model was fantastic and frankly I thought it was the only smart branding Ask had but the search company chose to diversify into a broader search market… why abandon this so soon? By once again changing its stripes Ask is beginning to appear like a schizophrenic corner business that keeps changing sign color and name; that hardly inspires trust.

Anyway, I sense way too much spin over at Ask. Perhaps Ask is slightly backpedalling… maybe our collective outcry startled management a bit. Unfortunately I somehow doubt they are going to change their direction at all. Indeed, I think Ask has put the first barbed nails in its own coffin. Ask certainly lost an immense supporter since Lisa Barone gave up on the search engine; I didn’t know of a bigger fan in the SEO/SEM industry than Lisa.

All the best to your bottom line InterActiveCorp (IAC). I know that is all that matters in the scheme of corporate intrigue. It is too bad Barry Diller (CEO, IAC – see pic) couldn’t have had more faith in ASK’s product and its investment in mainstream search. Oh well, at least Ask is focusing on a market that does indeed have a lot of sway in society today. After all Oprah has certainly made a pretty penny on the “middle-American, predominantly female consumers.” I just hope Ask will be prepared though when Oprah launches her own competing search engine… it is only a matter of time!