In what seems to be more of a cruel joke than a factual statement, the Associated Press reported yesterday that Ask.com was laying off 40 employees and realigning itself as a women’s site.
The once popular search site, whose market share has dwindled to just 3%, has finally given up its pursuit of Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! Instead the company will return to square one and focus on doing what it started off with – answering questions.
Ask Jeeves, as it was called at the start, began as a question-and-answer type of resource. Users were prompted to “Just type a question and click ‘Ask!'” They were also shown example questions that others were asking. Naturally, most queries on the search engine were in question form, starting with ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘who’ or ‘how’.
That initial habit fostered among users has stuck with the brand. A larger than normal portion of their user base still formulate queries containing questions rather than just searching for keywords. Even though the site changed and the butler Jeeves got fired, the user mindset never completely adjusted to thinking of Ask.com as just another search engine, in spite of the quality of their results being comparable to Google. Now they are simply returning to their roots.
Women from the Midwest and Southern United States form the majority of Ask.com’s user base. Catering to their needs is therefore an obvious choice. Ask.com will now help married women looking to manage their lives by answering questions about recipes, hobbies and children’s homework.
Now that Ask.com is out of the picture, and Microsoft looks likely to acquire Yahoo!, the search engine market is turning into a duopoly with an extremely dominant front-runner, Google.
Ask.com spokesperson Nicholas Graham has stated that the rumours in the mainstream media are not true. “The idea that we’re going to become a women’s site is just plain wrong. We know that a sizeable 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,” he said, “We recognize that we can’t be all things to all people, so we’re focusing on our core group of users. We want to build up the kinds of answers those users are looking for, while at the same time remain a strong search site.”