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Posted November 9th, 2010 by Andrew Goodman

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 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 is a little like trying to revive AOL. You might as well start with a completely clean slate.

2 Responses to “ Repositioning Its Own Corpse”

  1. if you ask many about ask.jeeves, they’ll tell you ‘ask who?’ I’ve been web savvy since 1996 so I’ve been current on most web innovations. I played with what was then ask.jeeves but I don’t remember being thrilled with the outcome. I’d a question, then I’ll get ‘do you mean this, do you mean that…?’ I got no time to waste. though google would not always give you the right answers, it would come pretty close and give you choices, lots of them. in the game of life, there are winners and losers. same with the field of technology. like in life it’s not always the best product that come out on top. timing is everything. of course marketing plays a big role. remember friendster? I think the name of the game is to have mindshare. then keep it. however you do it is your call. I’m doing search marketing for a client. when she mentions bing, I laugh. I don’t know if their product is great or not but I’m not interested. google is so convenient. humans don’t like change, no matter what they claim. if someone wants to sell you on the virtues of green tea and you’re a coffee lover, it’s ‘don’t waste your breath’. let google rule the world.

  2. Vee Sweeney says:

    When it comes down to it, many of Google’s ideas have actually been failures, but the attempt and innovation was there. Even though some projects were not successful, they keep moving forward, which earns them a little respect. Companies like just keep trying to reinvent the same wheel, which will never work.


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