Ask.com abandons search business

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Ask.com is giving up on its search engine to focus on its Q&A business, losing 130 staff in the process.

When IAC/InterActive Corp, owned by media tycoon Barry Diller, acquired the company for $185 billion, it was billed as an attempt to knock Google off its perch.

But four and a half years on, the company is conceding that this is highly unlikely ever to happen, with Google holding two thirds of the search market. Ask.com has somewhere between two and four percent, depending on who you ask.

"We need to stop investing in things outside of providing users with the best answers, including making the huge capital investment required to support algorithmic web search development," says Ask.com president Doug Leeds.

"This investment in independent web search is not required by our strategy, nor is it required in the marketplace. We have access to multiple third party structured and unstructured data feeds that, when integrated, can provide a web search experience on par with what we are able to produce internally, at much lower costs."

He doesn't say which company will be providing the search results.

The new focus is, ahem, rather similar to the company's original 'Ask Jeeves' service. Indeed, Leeds acknowledges that the company has had a tendency towards 'ping-ponging across different approaches and marketing tactics' over the years.

But, he says, reverting to a Q&A approach will serve as a key differentiator for the company. The service will offer answers to questions asked in natural language, with answers provided by a panel of  individual users as well as through links to other websites.

The company now plans to consolidate its engineering resources at its Bay Area headquarters. And while it says it plans to relocate staff where possible, about 130 people are likely to go.

"Make no mistake that execution of our Q&A strategy still requires a great deal of technology investment and technical innovation, much of which is search-related, involving crawling and indexing the web’s breadth of questions and answers, and using search-based algorithms to route the right question to the best potential answerer," says Leeds.