Will Google be the winner in the $31 billion local search and online classified advertising market, asks Donna Bogatin over at the ZD Net’s Digital Micro Markets blog. Perhaps, but it is not going to have it easy, if Jim Lanzone, CEO of Ask.com has anything to do with it.
Emeryville Oakland, Calif.-based search division of IAC Corp., has just announced AskCity, its foray into local search market. The company has partnered with the likes of Yelp, JudysBook, and scores of others to come up with what Lanzone describes as a comprehensive offering.
We caught up with him, and asked him about the plans for this offering, and what it means to Ask.com. He talks smack about Google, makes fun of Matt Cutts and of course, dances around the revenue question. Excerpts from an interview.
OM: What is AskCity, and how long has it been in development.
Jim Lanzone: AskCity is a new local search application from Ask.com. It has been under development for the better part of 2006. AskCity is available for all US cities, though the content is deepest in the top 50 markets. We plan to take the product international in 2007.
OM: So why should I care about this launch. I can find a lot of information from other sites.
JL: You should care because search engines are the #1 online most-used resource for local information, ahead of yellow pages and local newspaper sites, and local searches account for about 10% of all searches on major search engines. Yet local is the category with the lowest user satisfaction in search. So there is this gaping need for better local search. We think we’ve got it.
OM: From an outsider standpoint, isn’t this competitive with other IAC properties such as CitySearch?
JL: No, exactly the opposite. Ask.com is a search engine, and search is the doorway, not the destination. The rest of IAC is comprised of some of the top destinations in many major vertical categories, from Citysearch in local content, to Ticketmaster in ticketing and events, to ServiceMagic in local services.
So we are a natural, complimentary partner with the other IAC properties including Citysearch (despite their name).
Being on the same team as the other IAC companies allowed us to work together in an unfiltered fashion. We got their raw data, and were able to build our own Ask.com search product on top of it. We were like kids with a new toy getting to play with that data and weave all of it into one, synthesized product.
OM: What is the impetus behind this product, and what kind of revenues do you expect from the local efforts.
JL: As I said above, local is very important in search. It’s a top five category for us. If we do a better job for users of our local search, hopefully they’ll use us more often, and some of them will shift over to Ask as their primary search engine as we accumulate more and more best-in-class products.
Revenue within the AskCity vertical is not a primary concern at launch. We make plenty of money on our standard search page, and many users will access AskCity via the shortcuts at the top of that page (called Smart Answers). Down the line there are obviously plenty of opportunities to make money in local, but we’re focused on user adoption of this new service first.
OM: This seems less competitive with Google that it does with Microsoft and Yahoo. Is that a fair assessment?
JL: Heck no, we’ve got Google in the crosshairs too. You think Cutts snoops around our offices in his spare time and dresses up as Dead Jeeves for Halloween because he thinks we’re focusing on Redmond? He is obsessed with us. It’s unhealthy, actually. I’m kind of worried about him (and not just because UCLA beat Kentucky last week). (Apparently Jim went to UCLA and they beat Kentucky, where Cutts went to school. Its not search, but basketball. )
In reality, AskCity was created solely to meet the needs of our 29 million monthly US users better. We weren’t doing a great job in local before, and I’m sure that drove some people to use other engines. But those sites aren’t doing a great job either. Our research showed that they rely too much on maps and gimmicks like fly-overs, have limited content, require too many steps to transact, and have a lack of coherence between various the local products they’ve all created. AskCity tries to address much of this dissatisfaction, both on our site and in the category overall.
OM: Are there plans to bring this to the mobile world as well? After all this information is much more relevant if one is on the move?JL: Yes, there is definitely a plan to bring AskCity to mobile, but we weren’t able to swing it on this go-around. We need to move quickly, however, because Ask Mobile, wihch launched in October, is getting way more traffic than we ever anticipated.
OM: Are there plans to incorporate user generated information and blog posts into this offering.
JL: User reviews are already incorporated into AskCity via Citysearch, Yelp, JudysBook, InsiderPages, OpenTable, ServiceMagic and others. There are photos for some businesses. Getting more info from blogs is something for the future roadmap. Definitely a good idea.
(Photo by John Battelle)