By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 3:10 pm
In my new Technologizer column for TIME.com, I write about Google alternatives, including Bing and Blekko. I also say I’m sorry there aren’t more of them: Among both big longtime Google rivals and startups, there seems to be a widespread assumption that Google has the search-engine market locked up and investing in core search-engine technology is therefore pointless.
One of those big longtime Google rivals is Ask.com, which announced last week that it’s going to cease work on its own search engine, use one provided by an unnamed third party, and focus on its Q&A service. Yesterday, I met up with Ask CEO Doug Leeds here at the Web 2.0 Summit conference in San Francisco, and we talked a bit about the company’s change in focus.
Leeds, first of all, said that he was sorry that it didn’t make sense for Ask to continue to build its own search engine from scratch. He pointed out, accurately, that Ask had a history of doing inventive stuff that later showed up in in its larger competitors. (Parts of this 2007 Ask redesign look like a blueprint for Google and Bing in 2010.) He said that made it tough for a smaller site such as Ask to compete based on pure innovation, and factored into the company’s decision to outsource search.
Users, Leeds told me, won’t see a sudden change as Ask stops crawling the Web itself–there won’t be one big day when it flips a switch and goes from Ask search to Someone Else’s search. (Ask isn’t saying whose search results it’ll be using; it has a deal with Google for search advertising.) Instead, the site will evolve, and search will still be a major part of the experience even though it’ll be someone else’s engine.
Oh, and there’s now an Ask.com iPhone app, which lets you speak to ask a question. An Android version is in the works.