Can avatars and smileys boost Ask's search share?

Summary:Can a Zwinky avatar, new smiley or fancy cursor increase the number of times people use the Ask search engine? Interactive Corp.

Can a Zwinky avatar, new smiley or fancy cursor increase the number of times people use the Ask search engine? Interactive Corp. CFO Tom McInerney hopes so.

McInerney speaking at the JPMorgan Internet conference in New York City outlined Interactive Corp.'s sprawling range of businesses--Ask, HSN, and Ticketmaster to name a few--and mentioned an under the radar business that may have an impact. That business--Fun Web Products.

Yes folks, Interactive Corp. is big on fun and hopes you download a toolbar to get it. Fun Web Products features Zwinky avatars, Smiley Central (right) and Cursor Mania.

These little businesses reside in IAC's search and media unit. So how is this going to raise search share for the Ask network? These Web toys require a toolbar download. And that toolbar depends on Ask for search.  These toolbars may be a  Trojan Horse to  meet Barry Diller's goal to double Ask share.

"It's a move for free and convenient search," says McInerney. "The rates of (search) frequency are three times the Ask regular frequency. We're continuing to innovate so people want tool bar."

Frequency of searches is critical for Ask's success. McInerney acknowledges that Ask's "frequency is a fraction of what our competitors' have."  Lower frequency hurts Ask's share.

It's unclear whether these toolbar will get Ask more searches, but it's a business most folks have never heard of. There's a chance that IAC's fun Web play may be a viral way to boost Ask's market share.

Nevertheless, McInerney isn't taking any chances. IAC says Ask's standing in search will improve with a little innovation--he talked up the AskX effort--and marketing. On the marketing front, McInerney noted that IAC is planning on a big ad push for Ask around the launch of AskX in the second half of the year.

"We will advertise loudly. Very loudly," says McInerney. "We'll be advertising Ask itself. We think Ask is the brand."

Topics: Enterprise Software


Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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