Search Engine Dismisses Jeeves

NEW YORK While unveiling his company’s newly rebranded search engine, Ask.com, Barry Diller had a message for those expecting him to make a serious run at Google and Yahoo—be patient.

“We’re very serious about this,” said Diller, chairman and CEO of InterActiveCorp. “We’ve put up a lot of capital. But we don’t expect great earnings to come for a long time.”

Omnicom Group’s TBWA\Chiat\Day in San Francisco successfully defended the business in a review last year. The client is expected to spend an estimated $30 million in measured media in 2006 [Adweek Online, Dec. 22].

As of Sunday evening, AskJeeves.com (which IAC acquired for $1.9 billion last July) officially became Ask.com. The site features a retouched home page—minus Jeeves, the butler mascot. During a frank keynote address delivered at the opening of this week’s Search Engine Strategies Conference in New York, Diller acknowledged that chipping into Google’s search dominance is going to take some time, even with a revamped product.

“Legacy is a tough thing,” he added. “None of this stuff happens overnight.”

Diller said that prior to acquiring AskJeeves, the company had long struggled to please Wall Street, thus forcing the site to be cluttered with ads. Now that the site’s user interface has been simplified and its search technology much improved, the company is banking on its product speaking for itself over time. “We’ve been very long term in our approach,” said Diller. “If the idea is good, the world will allow it to come into its DNA.”

The new Ask.com features a “tool box” along the right-hand side of the page, which allows users to pre-select more narrow categories in which to search. Users can now search just for dictionary or encyclopedia results, for example, or for maps and local listings. Users are presented with three paid search ads at the top of the page followed by natural search results.

The focus for the revamped search engine, according to Diller, will be to help people with “everyday search.” Diller likened Ask.com’s position to that of the Fox network (which he launched) in the late 1980s. “It’s about differentiation,” he said. “We believe we can compete. Market shares do not remain at 30 percent unless there is a natural or unnatural monopoly.”

According to Nielsen//NetRatings, Ask.com’s share of searches has hovered around 2-3 percent, while Google’s share has only increased, exceeding 46 percent as of November 2005.

Ask.com will launch a new branding campaign in the near future, centered on the tagline “Use tools, feel human.” When asked whether the site needed a mantra, like Google’s “Don’t be evil,” Diller jokingly replied, “Be evil.”