Summary:

Ask.com’s latest turnaround strategy, in the wake of layoffs and reports of selloffs by parent IAC (NSDQ: IACI), has seen the site return to…

Ask Iphone App

Ask.com’s latest turnaround strategy, in the wake of layoffs and reports of selloffs by parent IAC (NSDQ: IACI), has seen the site return to its roots as a Q&A service. But in the process of doing that, it’s been asking the biggest question of all: is mobile the way forward for us?

Today, Ask.com publishes research from Harris Interactive that seems to answer that question in the affirmative. In a poll of over 1,500 mobile users in the U.S., Harris found that the majority of people on the move need answers that are more current, immediate and locally relevant than. Some of the more eye-catching stats:

– 66 percent of mobile users say they are more likely to ask timely questions when they are not in front of their computer.
– 30 percent of smartphone users access the Web on mobile more than on their computer.
– 55 percent were interested in local reviews on a mobile device, while 68 percent reported a desire to know whether a restaurant is busy at that moment.
– 38 percent said they needed local information more while they are driving in their cars than in other places, “indicating a distinct need for mobile services that are hands free,” says Harris.

The research, of course, is intended to bolster Ask.com’s first app in Apple’s app store. Ask for iPhone, which is free to download, tries to do one better than the company’s basic site, with features like voice recognition (powered by Nuance), answer alerts pushed to users, and a selection of location-minded results generated by Ask’s algorithms as well as “real people” that will, by the end of the year, also incorporate answers from people in a user’s immediate area.

This is definitely not Ask’s first foray into mobile. Back in May 2007, before the iPhone changed the world, the company launched “Ask Mobile GPS“, a very forward-thinking service in tandem with CitySearch and Evite that used a phone’s GPS to serve you answers relevant to your location, to the kinds of questions users were likely to ask when on the move.

That service was first touted as a great application for Sprint’s GPS-enabled devices, but if you follow the URL link for “Ask Mobile GPS“, you will see that it now redirects to a page to download the iPhone app: effectively the new app is built on the technology used for the older service.

Ask seems to have hit on the right combination of using mobiles to give location-specific answers to users, and assuming that the kinds of questions that are likely to be asked on mobile will be about something local rather than, say, about which baseball team has won the most World Series championships.

But the service will nevertheless need to carve out a space for itself in a very crowded market: not only are there the straight Q&A services like ChaCha and 4info, but services like Yelp, Gowalla, Loopt and Qype are all also approaching same proposition — crowdsourced information about local things — from different angles.

There is Ask.com’s wider user base to start from: Ask boasts that it is the fourth-largest search engine on the Internet today, with some 90 million users. In real terms that only translates to four percent of the market, according to figures from Comscore (NSDQ: SCOR). (In contrast, Google (NSDQ: GOOG) currently has 66 percent of the market.)

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