IAC's AskCity hard to ask

The $31 billion local online search and classifieds market opportunity is not Google's for the taking, I put forth yesterday in 'Google: $31 billion local winner?' Barry Diller's IAC upped the local ante today with the launch of a new, locally-focused service within the Ask.com search engine.
Written by Donna Bogatin, Contributor on

The $31 billion local online search and classifieds market opportunity is not Google’s for the taking, I put forth yesterday in “Google: $31 billion local winner?” 

Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp upped the local ante today with the launch of a new, locally-focused service within IAC’s Ask.com search engine. 

Fellow ZDNet blogger Dan Farber previewed the offering over the weekend: 

AskCity's interface reduces the number of clicks and context switches…to complete a task…it sets a higher bar for local search, and is more of a true Web of interlaced information, integrating businesses/services, events, movies and maps and directions in a single, AJAXy interface…

As with Ask.com search, AskCity automatically offers suggestions, related queries, to narrow or expand searches by neighborhood, cuisine, movie genre, categories, venues, etc. AskCity also has "doodling" tools for annotating maps and a snapshot feature for saving a map or emailing it.

Jim Lazone is the CEO of Ask.com and GigaOm’s Om Malik asked him “Why should I care about this launch. I can find a lot of information from other sites.” Good question, especially since one of the “other sites” is none other than Citysearch, a sister IAC property that has been claiming, for many, many years that its “city guides” are “your guide to everything local.”

Diller calls the amalgam of Internet properties in diverse sectors, from retail to dating, and from entertainment to real estate…that IAC oversees an "integrated conglomerate."

IAC’s diverse Web destinations are indeed a “conglomerate,” but how truly integrated are they? Does AskCity enhance integration of IAC properties to create a new and better “super” local search destination?

Farber puts forth that “Ask may have Trojan Horse in its new local search, AskCity” and cites Lanzone downplaying a rivalry with search industry leader Google:

People overate the issue of whether we have to beat Google to win By having a superior product, we can create an audience of loyal primary users.

Malik asked Lanzone about internal rivalries: “Isn’t this competitive with other IAC properties such as CitySearch?”:

No, exactly the opposite. Ask.com is a search engine, and search is the doorway, not the destination. The rest of IAC is comprised of some of the top destinations in many major vertical categories, from Citysearch in local content, to Ticketmaster in ticketing and events, to ServiceMagic in local services.

So we are a natural, complimentary partner with the other IAC properties including Citysearch (despite their name). Being on the same team as the other IAC companies allowed us to work together in an unfiltered fashion. We got their raw data, and were able to build our own Ask.com search product on top of it.

Lanzone’s Ask.com-centric rationale (despite the Citysearch name?) does not convincingly alleviate the AskCity vs. Citysearch quandary.

Diller pre-announced AskCity last week touting “We are coming out with AskCity, which is our local service." I noted, however, that Diller is “no local virgin” with his IAC, given Citysearch, in particular. I also underscored:

The new, rebranded initiative aims to finally deliver on IAC's goal of maximizing asset worth through integration: CitySearch, Ask.com, TicketMaster…

Two things are certain, right out of the gate: Not only does IAC now have internally self-competing “local” properties, the AskCity offering, itself, is confusingly in seeming competition with other offerings within Ask.com.

Ask.com is indeed a “doorway, not the destination,” because a front door is hard to find. Ask.com is promoting “AskCity,” but there is no AskCity destination; The URL askcity.com leads to nowhere.

Additionally, the URL city.ask.com/city is labeled “Ask Business Search,” not "Ask Local Search," and says “Search Businesses,” rather than “Search Cities” or “Search Locally.”

Also, AskCity is the fifth navigational button at Ask.com, surprisingly below the Maps & Directions navigational button, given that clicking on the AskCity button leads to a map!

Oddly, however, Lanzone disses “maps” and even laments “incoherence” between (others') local products, as cited by Malik:

AskCity was created solely to meet the needs of our 29 million monthly US users better. We weren’t doing a great job in local before, and I’m sure that drove some people to use other engines. But those sites aren’t doing a great job either. Our research showed that they rely too much on maps and gimmicks like fly-overs, have limited content, require too many steps to transact, and have a lack of coherence between various the local products they’ve all created. AskCity tries to address much of this dissatisfaction, both on our site and in the category overall.

I heard Jim Greiner, GM, AOL’s MapQuest, tout that MapQuest is an “invaluable part of people’s (local) lives,” at the Kelsey Local Interactive Media Conference last week (see “AOL’s MapQuest: ‘Invaluable part of people’s lives’).

MapQuest generates 14 million maps and directions every day, Greiner said. Greiner underscored, however, that MapQuest is “not just about maps and directions.”

Greiner evangelized MapQuest for “place searching,” citing how MapQuest is used for localized searches. The top five “place searches” at MapQuest:


I also heard Stuart Santos, VP National Media, Citysearch, at the conference proudly tout how he is ramping up the sales effort for Citysearch. As I recount in “Local bulls, online.”

I put forth to Santos that as Citysearch, Yellowpages.com, Kudzu.com…are often pitching similar advertising products to the same local merchants, a competitive differentiation strategy in the marketplace is key.

Santos suggested that future industry growth will be available for all players to partake in. Perhaps he was reflecting on how he would soon be competing with sister property Ask.com!

AskCity may change its URL strategy; When I discovered and pointed out Dell's flawed corporate blog domaining strategy, Dell changed its URL, as I recount in "Dell blog tames a 'wild ride': Dell listens, but does it understand?"

UPDATE: Google and Ask.com: Inseparable?

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