Going Green for Earth Day
We were feeling the love today with our Earth Day design, which got a few kudos from industry watchers (thanks Mashable!) And props to the Ask.com users who correctly answered the Question of the Day. It is a sad, but potent reminder that a plastic bottle takes 450 years to decompose.
Special thanks to Ask.com's Diana Furka and Holly Boston for this beauty...
Valerie Combs, VP Communications
Ask for iPhone Gets a Nod from the Webby's
This week we learned that Ask.com’s flagship mobile app for the iPhone has been selected as an Official Honoree by the Webby Awards, in the Social category. We’re honored; of the close to 10,000 entries received for the 15th Annual Webby Awards, less than 10 percent were selected as Official Honorees. This builds on Ask for iPhone's recent Appy Awards win in the Reference category earlier this year.
While it feels great to see our app recognized by the industry, what's really exciting is seeing our users engaging with it. We've seen around half a million downloads since our November launch, with more than 550,000 updates to the app. What's more, mobile users are contributing more content (questions, comments and answers) than their web counterparts, which tells us that mobile truly is the killer platform for the Q&A use case.
It's no secret Ask is focused heavily on mobile as we retool our strategy around pure Q&A. When people are on the go, they want answers quickly and they want them to be accurate; they aren’t necessarily looking to wade through a sea of blue links each time they have a question. This is exactly what inspires us to continue on our path of building the most comprehensive and fun mobile Q&A experience around.
Valerie Combs, VP, Communications
Have a question? Why can’t you just ask around?
When you have a question on the go, you want to be able to get a direct answer to your question rather than wading through a sea of useless blue links. It was with this understanding that we launched our iPhone app last year. Our users agree, and have downloaded the app nearly half a million times since November.
We’re taking this concept even further with a new app that we’ll be encouraging folks to check out at SXSW, called Ask Around. Ask Around is a location-centric app that lets people join, save and share conversations taking place in their immediate vicinity.
We saw some of this location-centric chat behavior evolving naturally in our flagship app and took the hint that there was real interest in having a discussion with those people around you. Launching Ask Around as a separate app dedicated wholly to this use case lets everyone explore the shared experience of location. Want to have a behind the scenes conversation with friends in the bar? Predict the next play in the game to those watching it with you? Find out where off campus people are heading tonight? Discover what the crowd across the street is looking at? Ask Around is the app for that.
And that’s not all. Ask Around gives you a view into the location-centric conversations happening in places you’re not at. Get a preview of the scene at the bars you’re considering heading to, without leaving where you are. See what the folks at the conference are talking about even if you can’t attend. Or, check back in on an event or location you left hours ago, and see how the conversation has evolved.
Here’s how it works: The app uses your phone’s built-in location-detection (GPS, cell triangulation, wifi, etc.) to tell where you are, and offers a slide function to adjust distance for the conversations you want to view from a few hundred yards, up to 15 miles. There’s also a map allowing you to see conversations on specific streets, intersections, towns or cities (you can check out conversations outside of your location but can’t join them because this is all about location being the nexus of the conversation). You can also save ‘spots’, such as a bar, a classroom, a political rally, a convention center, or the beach. Then you can tune back into the conversation to see how it unfolds after you’ve left, or before you arrive. The app also allows you to share these ‘spots’ with other users.
Check out our video to see the app in action:
What Ask Around is not about is playing matchmaker or helping you meet new friends. It’s not about direct messaging, connecting, or following other users. At least not yet. Ask Around is about using location as a common denominator and allowing location-based Q&A to blossom into conversation – giving you a window into the real-time dialogue unfolding around you.
Click here to get notified when Ask Around is available in the store. We want you to Ask Around…and let us know what you think!
Ask.com: Getting Personal
It’s been awhile since our last post, as we’ve been heads down working on a slew of updates designed to up the quality of our users’ experience on Ask.com – that means the quality of questions asked and the relevance/usefulness of answers produced.
To that end, this week we began rolling out the ability to personalize your Q&A experience on Ask.com with our Browse by Interests tab. So, once you create a profile on Ask.com, we will automatically ferret out questions and answers related to those topics, and showcase those in the My Interests tab in the Browse Q&A section. If you allow us to grab profile info from another social network – say Facebook or LinkedIn – we will also use that data to personalize the My Interests tab.
This personalized experience is part of our larger vision for what Ask.com Q&A is about. First, if the answer already exists on the Web and you can get it in milliseconds without bugging a single person, we should give it to you. Second, if you do need a person to answer, we should optimize the chances of you getting a high quality answer – quickly – as well as make it easy and fun to ask subsequent questions. From a feature standpoint, that means things like intelligent routing so your question is delivered to the people most qualified to answer it first. The ability to follow people who consistently provide highly relevant questions and answers on the site also helps you customize your experience. And now, the ability to filter your experience to reflect the questions and answers most pertinent to your life takes that one step further.
Check out this short video for more detail on how personalized browse works. And if you’re not yet part of the Ask.com Q&A beta, download our mobile app, or click this link for an invite.
Happy New Year!
Jason Rupp, Director, Product Management
Ask for iPhone: Take that Google & Bing!
Our Ask for iPhone app went live in iTunes less than two weeks ago, and we’ve since reached an important milestone – we’re now the #1 app in the reference section, surpassing both Google and Bing.
I want to take a second to give a hearty thanks to the entire team who worked tirelessly day and night to get this app out the door (also a big thanks to Apple for making the app so accessible, which certainly helped). It’s great to see such momentum out of the gate, and I’m excited to keep this going as we roll out more location-aware features and support for additional platforms in the coming months.
If you haven't downloaded the app yet, you can do so here. Doing so gets you entry into our beta communtiy feature. As always, we want your feedback, so once you're logged in please tell us what you think!
Jason Rupp, Director, Product Management
I wanted to share some difficult news made known to our employees today. Ask.com will close our offices in Edison, N.J. and Hangzhou, China effective over the next several months. This move was and is difficult, mostly due to the talent, hard work, perseverance and friendship that we have shared with the teams in these offices over many years, but we feel strongly that in the long run this is ultimately best for the Ask.com business and its users.
I’ll crib this post a bit from my internal message this morning, and try to keep this as honest and open as possible. While extremely hard, this decision was made for a number of reasons we believe will ultimately benefit our company and our products, including cost, office location, and—most importantly—focus. As our loyal staff knows best, Ask has taken a lot of flak through the years, fairly and unfairly, for not having a focused, cohesive strategy, for ping-ponging across different approaches and marketing tactics. The current team ended that. We know that receiving answers to questions is why Ask.com users come to the site, and we are now serving them in everything we do.
Unfortunately, this absolute focus means that we need to stop investing in things outside of providing users with the best answers, including making the huge capital investment required to support algorithmic web search development. This investment in independent web search is not required by our strategy, nor is it required in the marketplace. We have access to multiple third party structured and unstructured data feeds that, when integrated, can provide a web search experience on par with what we are able to produce internally, at much lower costs.
Make no mistake that execution of our Q&A strategy still requires a great deal of technology investment and technical innovation, much of which is search-related, involving crawling and indexing the web’s breadth of questions and answers, and using search-based algorithms to route the right question to the best potential answerer. Beyond this, our proprietary Answer Products will continue to be a key point of differentiation for us in the Q&A space. We will continue to make the technology investments necessary across all of these fronts to develop the very best Q&A experience on the Web.
Consolidating our engineering resources in a central location – our Bay Area headquarters – will also make it possible for us to swiftly respond to the hyper-competitive arena that Q&A has become. We need a team that is able to work side by side, face to face, idea to idea, as much as possible. We simply aren’t able to do that with our team fractured across the country, across the globe.
These reasons don’t make it any easier to say goodbye to many of our colleagues in Edison and Hangzhou, and we are making it a priority to do as much as we possibly can for every person affected by this, including comprehensive severance packages, end of year bonuses and job placement services. Where we can, we will also offer a number of people the opportunity to relocate to our Bay Area offices, which will grow incrementally so that we can continue building, enhancing and delivering on our Q&A strategy and product lines.
I want to close by thanking and recognizing the incredible employees that have helped Ask become what it is today, and what we hope it will be in the future. Your contributions will long be remembered and valued.
Update: Bloglines Lives!
I am happy to share with you all that Bloglines will continue – MerchantCircle, the largest online network of local business owners, has agreed to manage the Bloglines service for us and keep it up and running with no interruptions for our users. That means your data is still there, intact, and you can continue to use your same log-in and password as always.
When we announced that we were going to discontinue the service to wholly focus on building out our Q&A offering (you can read about some of our latest developments on that front here and here) it was nice to hear such positive comments from our Bloglines users. There was definite interest in keeping the service alive, and we were approached by several third parties with proposals about how to do so. Given our user feedback, we were extremely motivated to push these conversations forward.
MerchantCircle is committed to providing a great experience for both existing users and the 1 million local business owners they serve in their network. Stay tuned to the Bloglines website for more updates on some cool features they will likely start testing next year.
I want to thank our patient users for sticking with us over the past few months as we’ve taken the steps to close the service, and now to extend it, through the agreement with MerchantCircle. It’s been a long road, but it feels like we’ve come to a point that’s a win/win for us all.
With November 1 right around the corner, we’ve received some feedback from users asking for a little extra time to finish transferring their data from Bloglines to other services. We’re trying to accommodate our loyal users and make this transition as seamless as possible, so we’re going to extend the deadline by two weeks. Bloglines will remain up and running until November 15.
Thanks again for your patience.
Making Question Routing Even Smarter with Social
We’re in the midst of rolling out some new features on Ask.com and wanted to provide a quick update.
Growing our community the right way is key and adding value (not just bells and whistles) is critical. As such, injecting a social layer to Ask.com in places where it makes the Q&A experience better is a key emphasis for us. Over the past couple of months, we have implemented social functionality across the site to accomplish this, including being a launch partner for the Tweet button, allowing users to “follow” people who consistently provide great answers, and providing more opportunities for sharing answers across an individual’s social network.
But tying into social platforms can do more than just make it easy to share content and invite friends. With user permission, we can also pull in profile information from other networks to help us understand knowledge areas and expertise. This helps us route questions more intelligently, which also improves our users’ experience.
Soon, we will roll out a feature that will do just that. Ask.com users will be provided the option to import profile data – interests, places traveled, work history and experience, and so on -- from Facebook and LinkedIn. We think LinkedIn is especially relevant given the rich amount of work-related expertise (say you’re a car mechanic or a search marketing whiz) we can glean from that platform.
So, what’s the latest in a nutshell? A quick look below – Forbes’ Bruce Upbin provides more context in his blog, which you can find here.
- Universal log in: You can now log into Ask.com using Facebook or Linked credentials.
- As of this week, you can now easliy invite your Facebook and LinkedIn friends into the Ask.com Q&A experience.
-The ability to import and route questions based on Facebook and LinkedIn profile data coming next month.
We’re excited about the progress but want to know what you think. What social features or functionality would make your Q&A experience on Ask.com better? If you’re already a registered member of our Q&A beta, please visit here to share your feedback (must be logged in to view). If you're not in the beta but would like to be, request an invite now.
Jason Rupp, Director of Product Management & Amruta Phanse, Developer
Today, Ask.com let our users know that we will shut down Bloglines on October 1 November 1. Not an easy decision, especially considering our loyal and supportive (not to mention patient) user base, but, ultimately, the right one given business reasons simply too hard to ignore.
Primarily, it’s about focus. Our focus here at Ask is on building out our Q&A offering. Our beta, released in a very limited fashion at the end of July, is seeing steady community growth with an answer to question ratio of 2:1, which underscores the fact people are motivated to provide answers. Another encouraging metric? On average, users who are active within the community are asking 2 questions a day. These early numbers build on the competitive advantage we already have in the marketplace – the fact that 30% of the searches on our site are already in the form of a question – and are further proof Ask needs to continue its tight focus on delivering the best possible answers to users.
A little perspective: when we originally acquired Bloglines in 2005, RSS was in its infancy. The concept of “push” versus “search” around information consumption had become very real, and we were bullish about the opportunity Bloglines presented for our users. Flash forward to 2010. The Internet has undergone a major evolution. The real-time information RSS was so astute at delivering (primarily, blog feeds) is now gained through conversations, and consuming this information has become a social experience. As Steve Gillmor pointed out in TechCrunch last year , being locked in an RSS reader makes less and less sense to people as Twitter and Facebook dominate real-time information flow. Today RSS is the enabling technology – the infrastructure, the delivery system. RSS is a means to an end, not a consumer experience in and of itself. As a result, RSS aggregator usage has slowed significantly, and Bloglines isn’t the only service to feel the impact.. The writing is on the wall.
That said, plenty of people are still RSS aggregator-faithful, and Bloglines was lucky enough to be the news aggregator of choice for many of them. I want to thank these users for their support through the years. We are posting notification today, providing a three -week period to export feeds to another service – more detail and instructions can be found on the Bloglines website.
Broadly, Ask’s goal when we acquired Bloglines remains unchanged — to provide millions of people immediate access to the most relevant information wherever it exists. Whether or not you were faithful to Bloglines and that vision in 2005, I hope that you’ll stick around to check out how we’re evolving that proposition through a blend of technology and human insight with the new Q&A experience on Ask.com. We’re just getting started.
Opinions expressed here and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors, not of IAC Search & Media and may not have been reviewed in advance.
Blog Search from: Bloglines