Internet search engine Ask.com has a storied history, launching back in the mid-1990s as Ask Jeeves, competing alongside Yahoo, Google, and AltaVista for mindshare in the nascent Internet search business—and sporting s distinctive character with Jeeves, P.D. Wodehouse’s fictional valet. Back in 2005, AskJeeves was bought by Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp for a cool $1.85 billion—and although IAC has pumped resources into the the renamed Ask.com (Jeeves still appears on UK versions of the site), the search engine has never managed to gain significant marketshare, despite offering innovations like site previews and in-results media, and being the first search engine to offer users a way to opt out of behavior tracking based on their search queries, Internet addresses, and other information.
Now, in a conference call to investor covering the company’s third quarter financial results, IAC CEO Barry Diller has indicated he’d be willing to sell Ask.com. “We’ve been asked a lot whether we’re open to consolidating transactions in the area of search,” Diller said in the call. “The answer is yes. And it is unlikely that we would be the consolidator.”
Currently the top three players in the Internet search arena are Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft, with Microsoft heavily promoting its new Bing search engine…and inking a ten-year deal with Yahoo to have Bing power Yahoo searches. According to media metrics firm comScore, Ask.com is hovering right around a 4 percent market share: while Bing is gaining, most of its usership seems to be coming at the expense of Yahoo: Ask.com and fifth-place AOL Search haven’t suffered greatly, but they have also failed to gain any additional traction in Internet search for some time.
The big question, of course, is who would be interested in buying Ask.com? The answer is probably Microsoft, which is struggling to expand its search and online advertising business as it tries to compete with Google. A 4 percent bump in usership might not seem like much, but it’s a bump Microsoft could get just by spending money…and Redmond has plenty of that.
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