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Ask.com is abandoning its effort to outshine Internet search leader Google Inc. and will instead focus on a narrower market consisting of married women looking for help managing their lives.
...With the shift, the Oakland-based company will return to its roots by concentrating on finding answers to basic questions about recipes, hobbies, children's homework, entertainment and health.
I thought women's lives today were more complicated than housework and children, hehe.
What's also interesting is that with the information and focus conveyed in that news story, Ask has managed to insult a huge percentage of the population who constitute their potential audience. Just goes to show how much they know about the "womens market." And I wouldn't say that someone having been with Match.com means they necessarily understand women.
If this is what's coming down the pike, they'd better do their homework and do some damage control.
The decision to cater to married women primarily living in the southern and midwestern United States comes after Ask spent years trying to build a better all-purpose search engine than Google.
Rebranding as a "women's site" it simply ridiculous. As all of us who have followed Ask over the years knows, its technology and its innovations are bar none. Back in what, 2003?, when Paul Gardi presented at PubCon he did the usual old stuff. Then when he visited table during lunch he revealed the "new" Ask, able to filter and aggregate results by "community" by query -- in real time! That was a uge jump in capability.
Ask doesn't need rebranding, it needs more money for more storage, more indexing -- just more and more.
Ask has managed to insult a huge percentage of the population who constitute their potential audience.
But apart from the PR blunder, this shift and narrowing of focus isn't necessarily a bad move for Ask.
I some how don't see this
For some time now, ask.com has struck me as a technology company, uninterested in technology
relying on marketing rather a pure understanding of the search market, this move is consistent with that image
I don't know what I would do with Ask if it were mine. The focus on women sounds reasonable--they do have some success in that area and it's market that sellers of high margin products want to reach.
But, that said, that magazine (using the term loosely, it's certainly not journalism) has been very profitable. Ask would do well to study it. That will take real professionalism, because it's artless.
"The focus on southern and midwestern married women is quite strategic. In an analysis of their database, Ask.com found that 22% was devoted to bouffant hairdos and another 33% to casserole recipes using Campbells cream of mushroom soup - thus also indicating their prime sponsors."
An expensive $2.5 billion women's site if you ask me, and that includes zero content.
Let me go use Ask to figure out how to bake bicuits because that is what is most important to me.
There is a demographic group in the U.S. that really does have only that type of focus. I found that out when I quit work for a few years when our kids were little. At the first ever play group I went when my first son was little, the women spent the entire time discussing rubber stamping and reviewing each other's rubber stamp collections.
[edited by: Jane_Doe at 4:54 pm (utc) on Mar. 5, 2008]
Even after adding more bells and whistles, Ask still primarily appealed to women who used the search engine primarily to get simple answers.
They are laying off 40 employees or 8.0% of their workforce and are going to focus strictly on their grass roots audience which appears to have held on all this time. Smart move if you ask me. With a 4.5% market share, there wasn't much room for them to grow and the expenditures to compete with Google just aren't worth it anymore.
So, who gets the 4.5% market share Ask is giving up?
I skimmed. Ms. Li (an analyst) is the culprit, along with a couple of unattributed statements by the reporter.
There's no attribution of the "Southern women" statement, and nothing whatsoever in the press release about a change in focus.
The article does quote Mr. Safka's vague language about "changing focus" which it says was made "in a a statement".
But darn if I can find that "statement" anywhere.
It's not in the press release about the layoffs, or any other one, for that matter.
And, alas, this points-out the sorry, early, incomplete state of search today (and why somebody can still surpass Google). The SERPs are so flooded with copies and copies of copies of that news article, that it would be well-nigh impossible to find the original statement, even if it is posted on the web somewhere.
We need an "I want the original" qualifier. Google doesn't like the notion introducing qualifiers, other than their narrow ideas of "specialized search".
I don't think today's search engines are smart enough to figure that out. And, IMO, it's because of their focus on keywords, and avoidance of the need to truly understand language and meaning.
"Find the original statement by Mr. Safka about focus on Southern women"
Go ahead, call me silly for wanting to be able to enter searches in real language, and to expect a sensible answer. What keywords do you suppose would convey the very specific meaning of that request?
[edited by: jtara at 9:36 pm (utc) on Mar. 5, 2008]
Having said that, I'll be really interested to see how they plan to target a search engine to the market they have identified.
From Reuters [reuters.com]:
The company found that about 65 percent of its user base are women, with a high concentration of users in their late 30s in the U.S. Midwest and Southeast.
While the above is not a direct quote, it's based on a statement by Jim Safka.
Jim goes on to say they are going to focus on understanding that demographic and aligning their product to answer their questions.
If we can do a better job of understanding who these customers are and answering their questions, we will grow...
balam, you raise great points about closely reading what is put online, and I thank you for bringing it up. I agree it's important to understand what is fact and fiction. However in this case, a lack of quotes does not indicate the reporters are making it up that ASK is focusing on women, particularly women in the American South and Midwest. Without direct attribution, one can only guess whether the reporter was making an inference of the topics, or strictly reporting what was actually presented to her.
Sorry to accuse a number of folk here of being idiots...
Is that all it takes to be certified an idiot? Don't you think that statement's a bit extreme? jtara and marcia have given a lot to this community, with literally hundreds if not thousands of useful insights and opinions. I'm certain I am not alone in saying I have tremendous respect for the both of them. So it's disturbing to me that they (not to mention myself) are certified by you as idiots for expressing an opinion. Maybe you wrote the above a little hastily?
Perhaps, but you're the one who brought it up and suggested the possibility.
>>just what is insulting about that statement?
What is insulting is the stereotyping; someone must have been watching too many Brady Bunch, Father Knows Best and The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet re-runs.
In particular, the emphasis on married women is not only insulting, but is ignorant and potentially costly. It shows a blatant lack of understanding of the potential audience for revenue in the "womens vertical" (which is not all female, BTW). And that's just for starters, it's the tip of the iceberg.