Another Google competitor bites the dust: Ask.com basically has thrown in the towel on competing with the search giant, laying off 8% of its work force, or 40 people. That’s entirely understandable, because it was a lost cause a long time ago despite heroic efforts to come up with better user interfaces and other innovations.
But turning itself into a search site for “married women looking for help managing their lives”? What’s up with that? OK, I see that they’re saying 65% of the user base is women. But if you’re going to target your service, this audience seems a little broad, especially for a search engine. And if the idea of searching by asking a question didn’t work before, why will it work now?
Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land sums it up: “The truth is, you’re dead. You’re about to join the legion of other has-been search engines.”
Update: Turns out the apparent about-face by Ask, a unit of IAC, may not be quite as much of a turn as initial stories indicated. VP and spokesperson Nicholas Graham says the AP story and resulting blog posts, including this one, made it sound like Ask is becoming the next iVillage, a completely women-oriented site. He says that’s not true, that Ask will continue to be a broad search engine, but will focus on its most loyal users, nearly 60% of whom do turn out to be women. But the focus won’t be only on them per se so much as what they do on Ask, which is to ask questions in key categories such as general reference, health, and entertainment. That still means it won’t be as much of a broad competitor to Google, but the message is that Ask will continue to appeal to a broad set of users looking to get rather more specific answers than they feel they can get on other search engines.