Ask.com will stop trying to compete directly with Google as a mainstream search engine, and will instead focus on targeting niches where it feels it can prosper, based on the way users are searching with Ask.com now. Reports from Reuters and the Wall Street Journal quote new CEO Jim Safka saying "We are reorienting the company around where we can grow," and "If we can do a better job of understanding who these customers are and answering their questions, we will grow."
Safka took over as CEO in January, edging out popular Ask.com boss Jim Lanzone.
A total of 40 layoffs were made, across multiple departments. That 8-percent cut was designed to eliminate several areas of overlap, including some competing technologies, Safka told the WSJ. He also told the WSJ that one core audience Ask.com would focus on might be women over 30, asking questions about entertainment and health topics. Building out products for that group might include more community-generated answers.
Late last week, rumors were flying that Ask.com would get rid of its Teoma search algorithm and outsource search to Google. An Ask.com spokesperson told SEW at the time those rumors were "just plain false," adding that "There are no plans to 'pull the plug' on Teoma, our core search engine technology."
UPDATE: Gary Price, director of online information resources, evangelist of Ask.com, friend to librarians, former SEW news editor, and all-around great guy, was one of the 40 employees laid off today, he announced on his ResourceShelf blog. "Earlier this afternoon I learned that Ask.com is taking the company in a new and different direction and I will not be a part of it," he writes. "It's time to move forward and on to another full time job. Where it will be and what I will do is TBD but I am looking forward to seeing what's out there and where I might be able to contribute."
I've no doubt Gary will land on his feet, but we wish him the best of luck just the same. With the exit of Price, and the news that Jim Lanzone will be gone by August, Ask.com has most definitely moved away from "the little engine that could," with lots of personality, to just another IAC site in Barry Diller's empire. It's a sad day for Ask.com, and a sad day for searchers.