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Innovation

Ask.com goes back to Q&A roots, looks towards mobile future

Ask.com is backing away from the old search engine game and looking to stand apart with an old, but refreshed product.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor on

Ask.com is probably familiar to most Internet users as a search engine. You might even remember Jeeves, the tall, slim and tastefully-dressed butler ready to find your answers.

There in lies the heart and renewed focus for Ask: questions and answers. Rather than just acting as a search engine aiming to compete with Google, Yahoo and Bing, Ask.com is now going full throttle with its new hybrid product in the form of Q&A.

The hybrid part translates in to the two sources of information: a computer-generated database of answers for straightforward and objective answers, and then another newly-developed portion filled with user-generated content.

For example, if you asked what is the tallest building in the world, you'll get an instant answer. However, say you're looking for the best things to do in Paris while on a 12-hour layover, and you'll get a more detailed answer written out by other members of the Ask.com community, which is currently 60 million users strong.

While sitting down at the Ask.com booth at during TechCrunch Disrupt 2011 in San Francisco, Lisa Kavanaugh, chief product and technology officer for Ask.com, explained how adding the power of people to the site has really benefited Ask's refreshed strategy.

Although the user-generated, community answer portion of the site just went 100 percent public on August 31 after launching in beta to 30 percent of users last year, Ask.com has seen double the amount of visits as well as users coming back more often for longer periods of time.

Mobile, Kavanaugh added, is also a big part of Ask's game plan. An Android app is rolling out, but the iPhone version has already seen one million downloads. Both apps are free in cost and advertisements (at least for now), and tablet-optimized apps are in the works.

Additionally, Kavanaugh affirmed that user engagement has quadrupled thanks to the mobile launch.

Thus, perhaps with social and mobile features -- two of the hottest themes in tech at the moment -- are just the tools that Ask.com needs to continue this renewed path to success and give it more of a distinct edge against the search engine set that it often gets grouped with.

Of course, with this community direction, one might automatically compare Ask.com now to Yahoo Answers and Wikipedia, among other libraries of user-generated content. However, Kavanaugh posited that the hybrid strategy at Ask.com will give Internet users more unique access to getting better and quicker answers.

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