On the Record: Jim Lanzone
Ask.com may not have Yahoo's traffic, Microsoft's muscle, orafter last month's YouTube acquisitionGoogle's sex appeal. But CEO Jim Lanzone still insists his company can hold its own in the search wars. Since it was relaunched, and re-named, in Februaryafter being acquired last year by IAC/InterActiveCorpthe site formerly known as AskJeeves has become the fastest-growing search engine in the United States. Its 5.8 percent market share places it well behind search's Big Three. But with 40 million users worldwide, Ask and its rising fortunes can't be ignored. Lanzone spoke with Senior Editor Justin Ewers.
Why the relaunch and name change?
We were dealing with a 10-year-old brand with Jeeves that was closely identified with the dot-com boom. The brand had baggage in terms of being known for having a poor product in the late '90s [and] as a pure Q&A site. Questions are only about 10 percent of all searches.
People didn't realize Ask was no longer a Q&A site?
In subsequent years, Ask has built world-class search technology and become a much more comprehensive search engine. Consumers weren't giving it a chance beyond the Q&A niche. The relaunch in February was a way to take the shackles off.
Still, you say your search results differ from everyone else's.
[We] take search beyond just link popularitywhat's known now as PageRankwhere you're seeing how many votes a site gets and how big those sites are that are voting for other sites. [Our] technology breaks the Web down by topic and clusters it into communities. Then it analyzes popularity within those communities. What you get from that is more credible and authoritative sites.
Why is that?
Say the query is "fantasy baseball." On Google, you'll get ESPN and Yahoo! as the top two sites because they're the largest. But if you play fantasy baseball, you know those aren't the most authoritative sites. On Ask, you'll find more niche sites.
How can you gain ground on a companyGooglewhose name has become synonymous with search?
What's surprising is that we're not having much trouble in that area. We've been the fastest-growing search engine every month since we relaunched. We have over 25 million people a month in the U.S. and 40 million worldwide using Ask. Ask is the seventh-largest Web property in the United States, ahead of Amazon and the New York Times. What's hard is to make people break their habit of using a different search engine.
You competed hard against Google for the right to provide search and ads to MySpace. They won. Why?
At the end of the day, it became a very expensive deal. We couldn't stay in the game in a way that was financially sensible for us.
Google's Larry Page and Sergey Brin bought a 767 for personal use. What do you fly?
I fly United. Premium economy, if I'm lucky. I'm about to pass the 100,000-mile mark this year, so maybe I can get some better upgrades next year.
This story appears in the November 20, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.