April 22, 2011

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

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April 15, 2011

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

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January 12, 2011

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

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November 09, 2010

Ask.com Update

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.


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October 28, 2010

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

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June 18, 2008

Ask.com Makes More Moves on Privacy

Several weeks ago, a group of privacy advocates contacted a major company in the search marketplace, requesting some key changes to its website to make weblinks to its privacy policy more accessible and conspicuous. This included placing a “Privacy” link directly on the homepage that would, in one click, serve up the company’s privacy policy to the user

In their June 3rd letter requesting the change, the privacy groups stated that such a move represents “…a commitment by a commercial website to inform users about the company’s privacy practices.”

Ask.com agrees.

At Ask, we take our commitment to user privacy and data protection very seriously. We’ve demonstrated this not just through words, but through deeds and actions. We were the first major search company to announce that we would be placing privacy tools directly in the hands of our users, as we said we would do in July 2007. Then, we did it: we launched AskEraser in December 2007. Ask remains the only major search company to develop and deploy a privacy protection tool that that empowers web users to make decisions as to data retention by Ask. The AskEraser tool is right there on our homepage, a one-step mechanism to deleting a users’ search data from Ask.com servers.

Now, we’re going several steps further.

As of today, Ask.com has added a direct link to our privacy policy via a “Privacy” link prominently placed right on our homepage. It is only one of four non-search related weblinks on our homepage. We’ve also made sure that the “Privacy” link appears on the landing pages across most of Ask’s verticals as well, which cover almost all of Ask’s search traffic.

In addition to this important and timely step, Ask has also added a conspicuous link to our privacy policy right on our Ask “About” page, which is one click off our homepage.

At the same time, we realized we can – and should – do more to inform our users about the importance of privacy on Ask, and in general on the web. And we have. We are developing and finalizing two separate Ask “Smart Answer” search results pages, so when a user goes to Ask.com and types in “Ask Privacy” or “Privacy” in the search box, they will get served up a specially designed, robust, and comprehensive results page that is a one-stop shop of answers on both Ask’s privacy policies and actions (including AskEraser), as well as on privacy in general.

No one required that we take any of these steps. We took a look at our webpages, and realized we could make some key improvements when it came to privacy links on our service. It’s simply the right thing to do for the information and awareness of our users.

We strongly encourage others in the search marketplace and online industry to do the same.

Warmest Regards,
The Ask.com Team

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February 21, 2008

Better Binoculars

Ever been caught in a loop of back-and-forth clicking between the search result list and the linked result pages looking for that perfect site? That's where our Binoculars come in handy; they give you a peek at those sites before you open them. Just roll your mouse over the icon and - there it is. Saved clicks, saved time, everybody's happy.

Initially launched in 2004, Binoculars help people find what they are looking for faster. As part of our Ask3D redesign, in June 2007 we improved them - added bigger previews, increased coverage and dramatically shortened update cycles. We also added information about the site you're previewing, giving you site download time, whether or not a site is Flash-based, and even how many pop-ups the site delivers.

Many of you told us that you'd like to know even more about the search results. Knowing how popular a site is, for example, can give an idea of its influence and trustworthiness or it may be helpful in various types of research. Turns out Binoculars are the perfect tool for this kind of information. It keeps the result page uncluttered for the casual searcher, yet provides deeper insight for those who need it.

So we arranged a feed from Compete.com to enhance our Binoculars system. Compete is doing a great job pulling together data from various sources to compile ongoing web statistics for a huge number of websites. For the inquiring minds among you, this data is now available directly on our search results. Let's take a closer look.

Since it's winter and I love skiing, I searched for my favorite ski resort. When you roll over the Binocular icon of the top result, you will at first see the familiar preview:


At the lower portion of the preview, you can see the combined size of all elements on the page and how long it will take to download it on a still-common 56K modem connection. It will also show you whether the site requires the Flash plugin or whether it serves pop-ups:


So far nothing new, but look at the top and you'll now notice tabs. Let's click on Statistics:


At one glance you can see the visitor trend for the site. Looks like skiing is indeed more popular in the winter, who would've thought? On the bottom, you get the most recent estimated visitors count in numbers, here about 44,000, and the site's rank. In this example, Kirkwood.com was the 39,768th most-visited site on the web in Jan '08 according to Compete. If you want to know even more, such as yearly trends or pageviews per visit, click on "View detailed report" and we will take you to the full profile on Compete.com

BTW, the Binoculars bubble scales with the size of your browser window. If the graph or preview is too small, try enlarging your browser. If you can't, maybe it's time for that new screen?

Sven Rossbach
Product Mananger

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February 01, 2008

Ask.com to Host Opening Event of the Israel Web Tour in Silicon Valley


Having grown up in Israel, I've always been connected to the country's tech community. That's one of the reasons I started writing about Israeli start ups since 2005 on my blog, VC Café.  Now, I am pleased to announce that Ask.com has been selected to host the opening meeting of next week's Israel Web Tour.

The Web Tour brings 15 selected Israel-based technology start ups to the Silicon Valley for a week-long series of presentations and meetings with some of the Silicon Valley's top web companies and VCs. Organized by the California Israel Chamber of Commerce (CICC), this is the event's second installment.

The Web Tour kicks off at our Campbell office with a working lunch discussion focusing on Search Innovation. Ask.com's SVP of Product Management, Doug Leeds, will showcase Ask's products and technology, covering trends in the fast-moving Search space. In addition, VP of Corporate Development, Manoj Verma will discuss how startups can work with Ask.com and IAC.

Congratulations to the 15 companies chosen to participate in this year's Web Tour:

Until next time, Shalom!

Eze Vidra

Product Manager

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January 23, 2008

Give Me Some Skin: Ask Gets More Personal

So. You're reading the Ask.com blog, which means you've been to Ask.com, which probably means you've seen our Skins feature.
Western Sky skin on Ask.com

Introduced when we launched Ask3D last year, Skins allows you to change the design of the Ask.com homepage. It was a small part of the whole Ask3D package, but it's quickly become popular on a millions-of-people level, all skinning to their hearts' content.

And many skins users requested upgrades--the most-requested one being the ability to allow them to upload their own images.

Today, we're happy to announce just that upgrade.

All you have to do is use the new upload feature on Skins.

Let's say you have a really sweet photo, like this one we took of the team that worked on the Skins project, and you want to add it to the Ask homepage.
Original image you want to make a homepage skin

Click the Skins bubble on the Ask homepage:
Click the Skins bubble on the Ask.com homepage

Click the "Upload Your Own" button to reveal the upload dialog.
Upload Ask.com homepage skin - Step 1

You can select an image from your computer or enter an image URL. I have this image on my computer, so I used the browse button to find it. Don't forget to the check the box that Legal team made us add; then click the "I Agree" button.

Upload Ask.com homepage skin - Step 2
Now you can decide on a name for your skin, which color text to use, and where you would like the skin aligned on the homepage.

Here are some examples of different anchor points:
Crop your Ask.com homepage skin - example
Crop your Ask.com homepage skin - example
Crop your Ask.com homepage skin - example

Once you're done, click the "Next" button to confirm your new skin.
Upload Ask.com homepage skin - Final Step

Does everything look OK to you? If not, you can always go back and make some changes. I like mine the way it is, so I'm going to click the "Use This Skin Now" button and just like magic: the Ask homepage is my own!
Upload Ask.com homepage skin - Finished Example

Browsing Skins

Or maybe you're the kind of person who appreciates variety. We've also added more images to our library and introduced the ability to easily browse them--including the skins you've uploaded yourself. Just go to http://skins.ask.com  or click the "See All Skins" button in the Skins bubble on the homepage.
Browse Ask.com homepage skins

It's so easy to use, what more is there to say?


Erik Collier
Director of Product Management

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January 03, 2008

Ask.com Mobile: Voice-Activated Directions Show You the Way

We talk a lot around here about the Mobile Web and making mobile search faster, better. Admittedly, it's easy to get excited about the different features and capabilities of all the new pimped out devices, but at the core every mobile phone does one thing inherently well: transmit the human voice.

I am excited about our first step in integrating voice with Ask.com Mobile. Today, we've added a new option to our Directions service called Click to Speak. The feature lets Ask.com Mobile users enter addresses by speaking instead of keying them in. With just a click, users can activate a voice activated directions service and within seconds receive a text message with a link to directions.

The new capability incorporates technology from our East Bay neighbors, Dial Directions.

Here's how the new feature works:

1) Use your web-enabled mobile device to go to Ask.com (either http://www.ask.com or http://m.ask.com).

Step 1

2) Click the "Directions" link on the home page and click the "SPEAK your address" option.

Step 2

3) Hit the continue button to start the call and follow the voice prompts to speak your location and destination. You can use specific addresses or intersections.

Step 3

4) Almost instantly you will receive a text message with a link to your directions. You can view them in either a traditional list mode or turn-by-turn step format complete with visual cues.  You can also toggle between "driving" and "walking" routes.

It's that easy. No more mis-typing an address while on your way to that important business meeting! No more typing with your thumbs while trying to find your friend's birthday party!

Intrigued? Check out the video:

Ask Mobile with Dial Directions

Or better yet, try it out yourself.

Brendan Hallett
Product Manager
Ask.com Mobile

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