Ask.com: the Field Narrows

The search engine market is a tough one.

Ask.com, the search engine from the American group IAC/InteractiveCorp, is abandoning its general Web search engine strategy in favor of vertical search focused on specific demographic groups (such as the Rushmore Drive engine that seeks to prioritize content for an African-American audience).

This reorientation is accompanied by a restructuring plan encompassing the layoff of 8% of the Ask.com workforce and the departure of Gary Price, a search guru who joined ask in order to bring innovation to the heart of the Ask engine.

We can’t let this event pass without pausing to salute the creativity of the Ask team, as evidenced by products such as Ask3D, which offered some interesting new functionalities for users. Our best wishes for the future for all the Ask crew…

It’s also a moment for us here at Exalead to reflect on the disquieting reduction in the number of general Web search engines over the past few years, particularly as the stakes for free, open and universal access to information continue to escalate.

The role of challenger in this domain is important. It is to continue to innovate, to continue to seek of new ways of solving old problems, to continue to imagine novel ways of accessing and navigating the world’s burgeoning information stores, and it is the duty of the challenger to keep pressure on market leaders without ceasing to interrogate its own vision. For, in a world where diversity is fading, innovation left in the hands of a sole actor will cease to exist.

At Exalead, we are committed to doing our part by keeping up a flow of innovations for the public, like searching by associated terms (at www.exalead.com since 2001), thumbnail previews for results, face filtering for image searches (a market first released a month ahead of Google), and many others to come…

So a little message to those who support us: we’re committed long-term to challenging the status quo within the search engine world. Spread the word.