Search engine AskJeeves.com has rebranded itself as Ask.com, ditched its namesake butler icon and added several new search tools in an effort to woo more users, Barry Diller, chairman and chief executive officer of Ask Jeeves’ parent company IAC/InterActiveCorp announced last month.
“It needed not be any radical change, we just needed to drop some baggage,” Diller said in his keynote address at the Search Engine Strategies Conference & Expo in New York.
In addition to losing what Diller referred to as the “fat butler,” Ask.com streamlined its Web site with a new “non-cluttered” look and added a right-hand sidebar for searching different sources — such as images, weather, dictionaries and local sources — that Ask.com officials say enables “search on speed dial.”
Ask.com also adds a new map search feature, with an AJAX-based user interface that enables drag-and-drop functionality. The map tool also adds such features as aerial images of locations and an option to get walking directions in addition to driving directions.
Also among the new search tools is a shortcut to searching for encyclopedia sources on the Web, such as Wikipedia.
“It doesn’t matter whether we have six or two per cent market share, what matters is whether we’re relevant,” Diller said. “One thing about us is that while others have been going to all sorts of other things, what we’ve concentrated on is everyday search. We don’t think the experience is as satisfying as it can be.”
But Diller acknowledged that the search company is facing a difficult task in getting users to change their habits. According to the latest data compiled by comScore Networks Inc., Ask Jeeves only gets about 6.5 per cent of total search queries.
Google was the most used search engine in the U.S. in November, followed by Yahoo, Microsoft Corp.’s MSN and America Online Inc.
“Legacy is a tough thing, habit pulls. I don’t think any of this stuff happens overnight, this is not the way it works,” Diller said. “We’ve really said we don’t expect great earnings to come from Ask for a long time, what we want to do is invest in real terms in this area that we think is at its very beginning.”
Diller said the company’s biggest challenge is overcoming public perception.
“I think the big issue with us is some of our legacy. People think of us as a tool where you have to ask a question with a question mark at the end of it and you get a response. I think that what we have to confront first is to tell them what we’re doing,” he said.
Diller also sought to dissuade concerns that Ask.com would give preferential treatment to some of IAC’s other online properties, which includes Citysearch.com, Evite.com and Ticketmaster.com. “When it advantages our audience, we’ll give it to them,” he said.
As for the future of search, Diller said that as consumer devices mature the ways in which we access information will become less of an issue.
“We’re about to embark on an age where we’re not going to be bandwidth- or distribution-constrained,” said Diller. “All of those things happen when there are consumer products that enable them. It’s going to happen soon.”