Need more examples? Here are commercials from MSN, Yahoo, and Ask.com. (I found them using Google and YouTube, a Google-owned video-hosting site.) Do any of them articulate a reason to switch search engines?
Gene Wood, an operations manager at Ask.com, the Barry Diller-owned search engine beloved by Midwestern moms, wrestled a mugger to the ground rather than lose his iPhone, for which he paid $499. While riding on a subway train in San Francisco and watching a movie, Wood felt a hand reach behind him and snatch the phone. Wood, who is 6 feet tall and weighs 240 pounds, jumped from his seat and pursued the thief. Here's his harrowing account of how he got his iPhone back through hand-to-hand combat — and got away with just one small, if nasty, head wound:
Ask.com's latest revamp, unveiled by CEO Jim Safka to the New York Times, attempts to dive deeper into the Web, pulling "structured data," a fashionable buzzword, from sources like TV listings and health databases. Give Barry Diller's scrappy search engine, owned by his IAC conglomerate, this much: When at first it doesn't succeed, it tries, tries, tries again. But you can't blame the market, or users, for finding all this trying, well, trying.Safka's example — a search for the popular tween star Miley Cyrus which yields TV listings for her Hannah Montana show — looks convincing, at first glance. Neither Yahoo nor Google show TV listings in the first page of search results. But Googling "Miley Cyrus TV listings" readily pulls up a page on TVGuide.com. Ask.com's strategy relies on the notion that a small team of engineers and product managers can guess what users want, find the right databases to pull the information from, and assemble it more effectively than the dominant search engine's algorithms. It's a romantic notion of man vs. machine. But I seem to recall John Henry died at the end.
Geeks always think they will trick the system by being smart. They fail. It's no different when intensely brainy women take up escorting over the Internet, like Stanford Law graduate Cristina Warthen, in court this month facing federal tax evasion charges. As sophisticated as the sex trade is, there's still no magic solution for how to hide the money. The Feds claim Warthen hid cash in a safe-deposit box, her apartment, a storage locker, and even law-school textbooks they found in the trash. I've watched clients nerd out over this on message boards for years, trying to come up with the foolproof plan. There isn't one.The under-the-mattress route. The plus side: You'll avoid getting caught up in antiterrorism sweeps. From loading up throwaway debit cards at Walgreen's to starting offshore corporations under proxy boards in Nevis, there's just no way to handle thousands of dollars in cash without straying into money-laundering territory. The risk here is that large stacks of dollar bills can be found if your home is searched. Not being Al Capone. An escort who finds an understanding tax attorney could just pay the Fed what they're due — or at least, close enough. Warthen tried this route. It, too, failed her. And why? Living smaller. Her Benz and her pad didn't add up for someone who only declared $13,000 in annual income. As one message board client who claims to have known Warthen wondered, how different might this have gone down if she'd just driven a Honda Accord? Watching the weakest link. No matter what elaborate James Bond ideas you've got, there's always a coworker crazier than you who, when she gets into her own trouble, will out you. It wasn't a client sting or even a tax audit that brought "Brazil" to the attention of the lawman: it was a careless Orange County madam. When she was picked up by her own local law enforcement, that led cops to investigate Warthen. That's why they were sitting in wait outside of her apartment, and that's why they found $2,400 in cash tucked into law books thrown out with her trash. (Photo by RM Studios)
In the second quarter, IAC swung from a $94.6 million profit last year to a $421.6 million loss this year. Don't blame Jakob Lodwick! His former company, Vimeo, is nowhere near the top of IAC/InterActiveCorp's expense report for the past quarter. The real problem at Barry Diller's Internet empire is Cornerstone Brands, a rollup of catalog companies undermined by weak consumer spending in home and apparel retail. Cornerstone's losses led to a $300 million writedown in goodwill in IAC's second quarter. In addition, the soft real estate market cut revenue for home financing site LendingTree nearly in half.IAC is moving ahead with plans to spin off four of its divisions by the end of August: HSN (which includes Cornerstone), Ticketmaster, Tree.com (which includes LendingTree), and Interval Leisure Group, which operates vacation sites including ResortQuest Hawaii. That leaves IAC with Ask.com, Match.com and Citysearch. What's happening? Simple: Diller and company have learned that bundling a bunch of diverse online businesses together doesn't create the promised "synergy" of the Web 1.0 boom. Better to let each site fend for itself. Since IAC got rid of Expedia in 2005 (Barry Diller's still chairman of the board), the travel site's ups and downs have closely followed the travel market. That's the watercooler version. You can wonk out with the full details.
Lexico, the company behind reference sites like Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com, has been acquired by also-ran search engine Ask.com, a unit of Barry Diller's IAC, for an undisclosed sum. It will mean an 11 percent boost in traffic for Ask and more revenue for Lexico's sites, as Google had cut a special deal with IAC for a higher revenue share than it would give to the likes of Dictionary.com. Possibly tipping their hand about future moves, Ask CEO Jim Safka told the AP the site was also looking to improve results related to health and entertainment, presumably through more acquisitions. The move comes after IAC's Barry Diller settled a fight with Liberty's John Malone, a major IAC shareholder, over plans to split the company into five different parts.
The act that first brought Chadrick Baker, virtual-worlds advocate and lover of love, to our attention was his declaration of romantic fealty to four Valley foxes. Bad news for Sarah Meyers, Amanda Lorenzani, and Sarah Lacy: Baker has found his feelings for Ask.com art director Diana Furka requited. Before declaring their feelings, the two pursued a platonic paternship on a website, Oddistry.com. Good luck, you crazy kids! As for the rest of you, can you think of a better caption for mascot and mate? Suggest one in the comments, and it will become the new headline. Yesterday's winner: "You mean this isn't the Facebook prom?" by dannyisme.
Ask.com bungled the spelling of Cinco de Mayo, but at least they made an effort. Pictured here are Yahoo's animated mariachis and dancers. But Google, the company well known for its holiday flights of logo fancy? Nada. Yes, it's actually a minor holiday south of the border. But the victory in Puebla over the French has gone unnoticed in the Googleplex for the ninth year running.
Barry Diller's IAC is throwing a launch party in New York tonight for new portal Rushmore Drive, which includes an Ask-based search engine manicured to appeal to African-Americans. Fast Company senior editor and blogger Lynne D. Johnson managed to sneak an early screenshot and some marketing messaging online. The project, launched at IAC's typically glacial pace, has been in the works for a year, and IAC plans to target other niche demos in the future, Johnson reports. According to the latest data from Pew Internet, 56 percent of African-Americans use the Internet. Might be a good place for Google to post some job listings.
He and Furka aren't dating, Baker hastened to clarify. "This is different," he IM'd me. "Although, if that'll give her press, we could always do the Jakob and Julia angle." Chadrick, as our mascot, Valleywag does have certain expectations of you. In the clip above, Furka explains the recent bridal extravaganza which got Baker felt up by a hairy man in a dress.
Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported Ask.com would become a search engine for midwestern women. But now the "Marge Simpson Plan" — as our Ask tipster calls it — is off. Apparently, Ask CEO Jim Safka changed his mind over the weekend and executives spent all day Sunday scrambling to put together a new plan. Our tipster blames the confusion on Safka's secretive nature, telling us that when he comes into work his office door is always closed. The silence has once loyal employee feeling apathetic and looking for jobs elsewhere.
Barry Diller's battle with Liberty Media head John Malone for control over IAC could be over in a week, Diller told a crowd at a Variety event yesterday. "It's very odd that two people who don't want to give up control of anything are giving control to a judge in Delaware," he said. "The wonderful thing about Delaware is they do it quickly. They make a decision quickly." Some shareholders might wish for the same alacrity from Diller.
Depending on which search-engine marketing firm you believe, Google either had a really good month monetizing is search traffic, or a really poor one. It's so confusing! Seeing HitWise's search market share numbers from the month, I bet competitors Yahoo, MSN and Ask.com are glad they didn't have to worry about having all that traffic.
As Barry Diller curtails both Ask.com's ambitions and its workforce, his hired hand is turning it into the Home Shopping Network of search engines. CEO Jim Safka says 65 percent of its users are female with a high concentration in their late 30s in the Midwest and Southeast. In an attempt to try to get also-ran search site back on track, Safka is laying off eight percent of Ask's employees and "reevaluating" its strategy. "Everything we do will be put through this strategic filter," he says. At last, a search engine that plays in Peoria. The only problem is that even Midwestern housewives know how to Google.
As his search engine Ask.com inches toward irrelevance, besieged IAC CEO Barry Diller has found another crowded market to pour cash into: videogames. According to Variety, Diller plans to invest $50 million to $100 million of IAC's money on InstantAction, a new site from recently acquired IAC subsidiary GarageGames. GarageGames doesn't develop games quite so "casual" as the type Mark Pincus's Zynga produces, but the venture's product will still be Internet-based games made for those who don't want to waste time in front of a TV. Just like everyone else in the market, only a year or two later.