I just listed to the investor webcast about the proposed InterActiveCorp-Ask Jeeves deal. My first thought was how familiar it sounded to proposed (and failed) InterActiveCorp-Lycos deal of 1999, that promised mega cross-promotion but also raised the fear of a lack of diversity in results.
IAC was called USA Network at the time, undergoing a name change later in June 2003. The idea back then
was that all the great IAC properties were going to gain from cross-promotion within Lycos search results and vice-versa. My
Lycos To Merge With USA Network article from back then revisits this more.
Fast-forward to today and the comment from Ask Jeeves CEO Steve Berkowitz on how the merger of IAB-Ask will allow people to "search, find and complete a task all within the boundaries of one company."
The obvious question is why is the failed deal of back then is suddenly OK today? The model itself, however, never was an issue. Instead, it was one that Lycos shareholders didn't think the deal offered them enough, as the CNNMoney article Lycos, USA call off merger covers more.
What was alarming then from a searcher point of view and remains so today is the idea that people will somehow never be able to escape the clutches of an IAC site in search results. Looking for tickets? Say hello (and only hello) to Ticketmaster! Need to book a trip? Meet Expedia, and forget assuming there are other travel sites.
Both IAC's Diller and Berkowitz have said that any promotion will be in the best interests of the searchers, so the specter that it will be IAC-only content doesn't sound likely. And that's good, because while the Lycos deal never happened, Lycos itself still went down a disappointing route for about two years where any search was dominated by results leading back into content on the Lycos portal. It was a bad experience and cost the search engine many users, leaving it today no longer among the major players.
All the major search engines have been developing and expanding their vertical search properties, of course. And aiming users into their own verticals does make a lot of sense. Ask Jeeves already partners with Citysearch for local results. Using those results for local searches makes just as much sense as Google or Yahoo losing their own local search results.
I think the balance is that in the end, cross-promoting or directly diverting searchers into your vertical/specialty search properties is fine, as long as those are great, inclusive resources. So is it an issue that if you search for something on Google, it might route you into its Froogle shopping search engine, rather than web search results. No, because the experience is better. Froogle still gives you a comprehensive look at listings from across the web.
The same will be true for IAC-Ask Jeeves, if the deal goes through. Anywhere IAC's got some great inclusive verticals, heavy promotion or even invisible tab promotion will be welcomed.
Want to discuss? Visit our forum thread, Barry Diller's IAC To Buy Ask Jeeves.