Barry Diller Speaks on Ask.com at Search Engine Strategies
“I’m convinced that we will gain people who want to use Ask.com as a first or second choice in search.” A confident IAC CEO Barry Diller addressed the Search Engine Strategies crowd today in New York on the relaunching of Ask.com, which includes the new branding of the engine and its struggles with redefining its service, position, and tackling its own legacy. Barry Diller told SES Master of Ceremonies Danny Sullivan; “The biggest issue with Ask is its own legacy. For example, Ask a question and you get a response. The first thing Ask needs to confront, is to tackle that problem, to let people know what Ask does now.”
More fun and intriguing Barry Diller quotes:
On the Dropping of Jeeves : “The search engine needed to drop the baggage. The Jeeves character was a nice, human, emotional touch and that’s not bad, but it connoted something that I didn’t think allowed Ask.com to play in the center world of search.”
On Google : “The truth is to a lot of people, Google is now a real business and they do a lot of things that people won’t like.”
On Privacy : “If you have people’s information, we have an absolute obligation to protect it. You have to be a guardian of the information. If you don’t, you’ll lose your customers.”
On Rebranding (and a jab at MSN Search) : “We have to be patient. You can’t think that you’ll do an ad campaign and get an instant reaction.”
Search Engine Journal could not make it to the SES NY Conference this year, but it’s nice to have friends at the conference thinking about us. ClickZ Columnist, SES Speaker and President of Web Ad.vantage, Inc., Hollis Thomases, sent me her notes from Barry Diller’s session with Danny Sullivan. I’ve worked for and with Hollis in the field of Search Engine and Internet Marketing over the past 7 years and appreciate her willingness to share her notes with SEJ and our audience.
Here Hollis’s notes and words of wisdom from Barry Diller:
1. Official launch of Ask.com – why not re-brand altogether?
* B/c name of “Ask” is perfect for SE; don’t mess w/a good brand.
* For Ask.com, you’ve got to be in there for the long haul, you’ve got to patience; slow drip to get it into the DNA.
* “Google hasn’t spent a nickel on marketing,” Diller said. “Google sneezes and it’s on the front page of every paper in the world.” [Given the amount of Google Ads on other Search Sites, I question this a bit, but do get the point- Loren]
* But since Ask.com has come along after the fact, they do need to spend $$ to attract users and build awareness, but still, users are going to still see what they like.
* Ask has concentrated on everyday search b/c the experience today isn’t as satisfying as it could be.
* Most marketing w/product stuff is where most are all the same and there is only 1 thing making it diff or an initial big marketing push, but it’s really people saying, “Good, I’m going to use it”
* Barry’s excelled at generating rivals to stalwarts, e.g. FOX TV against Big 3. Don’t make another; make an alternative – differentiation
* Ask the easy way that Ask.com arranges info to take advantage of its differences
* For the 1st time, Ask.com doesn’t have to dance to the street, make its #’s, etc. Back then, it couldn’t compete. Now it can. Just try it, use it, see if you like it.
2. It’s ok to use Ask.com as your 2nd choice [reminiscent of Daniel Read’s quote that Ask.com is trying to find the sweet spot between Google and Yahoo – Loren].
3.Market share in a media world doesn’t belong to one competitor
* “When Yahoo built its own search engine, they did some campaigns and billboards, but no one really did it in a big way.”
* Legacy = Ask a question in natural language
4.First order of biz is to tell people what they’re doing; that it’s a stand alone; its features; how it works
* Does Ask need a mission statement, e.g. Google’s “Do no evil”?
“Be evil” [BIG GIGGLE FROM CROWD]
* “Google is now a real business and they do things that people will not like, so as a mantra, ‘Do no evil,” has a connotation that’s tough to live by.”
* New slogan = “Use Tools, Feel Human’ = search is an evolutionary process
5. Ask has been busy in Europe, particularly in China – how are you going to expand in search in China and how to deal w/censorship?
* “It’s been over-mediated to some degree. If you’re going to do business in another country, you have to obey the rules of the country. We have quite a few businesses already in China. You can’t complain about it; you just have to ‘stomach’ doing business in a country that certainly has a market and is coming a long way as a country readying to do business.”
6. Privacy – Fed’l gov’t has been asking for query data – how would you deal with this kind of request?
* “We would resist it. Anyone in business w/personal data has an absolute obligation to protect that data. Somewhere in the 1st Amendment. You have to be a guardian of information. Who’s going to trust you? I always thought that people giving their credit cards as an obstacle being a bunch of hooey because people give their credit cards all the time. The way companies treat this information is, ‘Guard it with your life.”
7. What about the conflict of interest in owning a search engine plus ecommerce sites – do those sites get to be at the top of the search engines?
“We need to give people a good search experience. Is there better information that we’ve got, and if it’s one of our sites, we’re certainly going to offer it.”
“This world of ecommerce is not passive, it’s truly interactive. So that as you play with it…, It’s actually another language to learn for a non-technologist by myself, but I am an idea person, and I had the epiphany, this revelation about what was possible in a screen. I was so curious about it, I dove into it in a big way. We are all in this fantastic period of radical change.”
8. Did you have another epiphany with Ask?
“No, I instantly liked it. First, I thought that Ask could compete. We spent a lot of initial time thinking defensively – e.g. Could we disintermediate Expedia. After a long time, we realized we needed a brand to see what’s there.”
9 .Not just a name change today; what’s under the hood?
Jim Lazone steps in :
1st = Re-brand
Site re-design holistically:
1.Show users our new tools and do it in a non-cluttered way
a.Toolbox down right-hand side of home page; scrolling over displays various detail directly w/in the tool (“Get a view inside the Swiss Army knife”), e.g. Dictionary (= #1 tool users use on Ask); Image Search right from home page
i.Toolbox can be configured per user preference by drag & drop
ii.Toolbox can be opened & closed
b.Desktop Search – can be done directly from Ask home page via “Search my computer”
c.Maps – right from search bar; AJAX-based draggable maps; calculate routes; arial views (better resolution than satellite views); walking views; can add up to 10 locations on mapping, more than any other SE; play button for actual driving experience
i.Next stage = getting more into directions and local
2.Smart Answers – ways to narrow or expand search via right-hand filters.
a.”Binoculars” = thumbnails of site upon mouse over to let you see where you’re going before you get there.
(Barry) “We’re very serious about this competition. We’ve put in a lot of capital, but we don’t expect returns for a long time. We’re very long-term in our approach, which is a good thing for this category.”
10. In search, do you feel we have enough voices?
11. How is Ask even better than you thought? What were you using before Ask? One presumes that you’re a loyal user of Ask today?
* “I used multiple SEs. Habits, though, are hard to break. Stuff doesn’t happen overnight. Search evolves. We have a prod that’s part of that. If the idea is good, the world allows it come into its DNA and it feels natural. It will happen, but not easily.
12. Convergence how do you see it going? Are we going to do most of our searches outside the browser?
“I think it will. It doesn’t matter what the screen is, and it’s going to matter less and less. It’s all going to converge. The amount of rich media that’s going to be able to be displayed on a screen is going to continue to evolve. We’re embarking on an age where we’re not going to be bandwidth constricted when there’s a product that any person can use.”