The Ask.com Crucible, Jim Lanzone Keynote Address SES San Jose 2007

Posted in Ask, Seminars

Good morning Search Engine Strategies San Jose from the keynote speaker address. Ask.com CEO Jim Lanzone has always looked beyond technology to strike a balance between art and science.

“It’s not enough to dump searchers in SERPs comprised of 10 blue links and leave you for dead.” Consumers need more information to help them follow the search.

Jim assured the audience that Ask executives don’t sit around the table talking about toppling Google. “Everyday searches go by where Ask users are not satisfied by the results and the objective is to satisfy those queries.”

Ask has been syndicated partners with Google since 2002 and displays Google AdWords. However when it comes to other search Google and Ask compete for users. It’s likely the next ad partner deal Ask cuts when the Google arrangement ends will be worth billions.

Near Death Experience
When Jim arrived at Ask.com the core product was “not great.” There were “7 different applications on the table” and very little search function. His first moves were to narrow the product offerings. Ask.com acquired a 7 person search company, called Teoma, in a now famous deal, which brought actual “search” to the Ask search engine. Since the acquisition Ask has a focused on growing a strong internal engineering culture. 70% of employees are engineers. Though still based in Oakland, Ask’s workforce is spread from China to Italy. Virtual employees are spread across the “backwaters” of the world.

Jim Lazone on Privacy
“Privacy is important. People want to know that nothing is happening to harm them.” Ask is about to release Ask Eraser, a new product which will allow users to wipe their history with Ask clean. Personalization is an opt-in product which authorizes Ask to archive history and behavior in order to facilitate a heightened user experience.

The Future of Search
This is about the future of search. Search now is this essential tool in life. For the next 10 years it’s going to be the way to navigate mountains of information. “People are really interacting with the Ask 3D page because Ask.com puts content in the same location as other engines place ads taking a “whole brain” approach to the page.” 3D is just a start because they’re not just inking about how to tweak the results, they’re thinking about the entire experience.

Google is Ask’s primary advertising partner however Ask also offers direct advertising which usurps Google syndicated placements. The advantages are that an advertiser has direct access to the data allowing modification of the advertisement separate from Google. Also Ask has unveiled a content network of 70 million + sites.

Search is Undervalued
Chris Sherman has long purported that search is about to undergo an inflationary explosion. Jim Lazone thinks that future cost scaling is “not a hockey stick” and will get more expensive gradually over time. “When things start being measured on a cost per action basis as opposed to CPC things are going to undergo a massive change.” He sees costs as a moving target where inflationary spikes will migrate from one aspect of paid search to another. He doesn’t think that SEMs are “screwed” because the relatively lower costs today will spike and ruin things.

Ask.com Mobile
What’s most interesting about the Ask.com mobile product there is little scrolling. Jim also believes that mobile is not just about local. He asks “how do we bring the web to mobile?” It’s easy to understand why individual mobile carriers want to lock visitors into closed-loop portals. However he quips “Ask.com is a brand that 50 million people use and it’s not realistic to ask mobile users to use crappy [closed-loop] portals because the carrier decides it’s so.” Ask is committed to bringing a better search experience to users than individual carrier portals are willing to allow.

Ask.com and Personalization
“There’s a lot on the personalization side that is over blown in what it can do for you.” The focus at Ask with the Edison algorithm under development, where content is implicitly tagged based on searches, is on “enhancing the search results.” There are 50 million people a month who get Ask’s “first best guess” at a SERP. The “bread-crumbing” data available from their behaviors and decisions can bring better content to Ask search and enhance future visitors’ experiences. Visitor enhancements come first at Ask and then personalization comes next.

“The numbers of users who are willing to read directions on the Internet (let alone customize or sign up for a feed) are not mass market numbers. The challenge is making the experience of searching Ask.com relevant for 50 million users a month without those customization features.”

Blog Posts About Jim Lanzone
John Battelle’s Searchblog: A Frank Interview With Jim Lanzone
Bruceclay.com – Jim Lanzone, Michael Gray & Cookies. Oh, My!
The Ask.com Blog: Jim Lanzone Video Announcement
The Ask.com Blog: Welcome, Bloglines!
Ask.com’s Jim Lanzone Interviewed, Would Like 10% of Google Share
Ask’s VP, Jim Lanzone, Live Q&A Session
Ask CEO Jim Lanzone Comments on Yahoo!’s Hypocrisy | SearchRank Blog
News.com Interviews Ask.com’s New CEO, Jim Lanzone [SearchEngineWatch]