In 1998, two new search engines came out, both eventually going public, both capturing an immense amount of user mindshare and both becoming amazingly popular.
One was Google. The other was Ask Jeeves.
One did a lot better than the other.
But the other did something unforgiveable. It went from lucking into the improbable status of being a multi-billion-dollar brand in web search technology — one of fewer than ten companies that have ever sniffed this — to kissing it all goodbye.
Even after Ask Jeeves bought Teoma and stopped being a “natural language” “answer set mapped to popular questions” service, people kept right on using it, blissfully unaware that its mandate had changed.
It took dropping the Jeeves and continuing to further reposition the brand into irrelevance to really kill the company’s identity.
In 2003, Ask Jeeves ceased being a “Q&A” engine to try to be another contender in the search engine arms race. Seven years later, the company hopes to reverse course and pump life into the Ask.com site by pursuing new directions in curated-plus-automated question & answers (note: I’ve done no research on this and don’t plan to). As a result, they’ve laid off a bunch of engineers.
Many consumers probably thought that happened years ago.
Today it’s about fresh, current brands that are positioned top of mind with users: Google, Facebook, Twitter. There will be precious little life left in the brand that Ask sadly and voluntarily sabotaged seven years ago.
Sure, Google won with technology. What Ask squandered was an opportunity to be in the top 3-4 search properties or even a solid #2 based on positioning alone — a “lovemark” that could have gradually bolstered its technology in keeping with its image, rather than trying to out-Google Google.
Users are savvy today, and they’ve also got style. They’re looking for new leadership. Reinvigorating Ask.com is a little like trying to revive AOL. You might as well start with a completely clean slate.