Blog Post’s Safka: 40 Jobs Cuts; ‘Reevaluating’ Product; Ditching The ‘Digerati’

IAC-owned search engine is planning to lay off 40 workers or 8 percent of its total workforce, CEO Jim Safka tells Reuters. That’s below the 100-or-so we reported on Friday; the job cuts are expected to come some time in April. The layoffs come amid a strategic reevaluation at the site. One possibility was that the company could shut down its own Teoma-powered search engine in favor of a white label type of deal with Google (NSDQ: GOOG), reducing engineering jobs. Safka also notes that Ask has a different demographic than most search engines, as it skews heavily towards mid-western and southern women over 30: “What this means is everything we do will be put through this strategic filter.” An outline of the new strategy will be presented to staff today.

WSJ: “Mr. Safka outlined a new strategy for the search engine that aims to increase the loyalty of its core customers. Instead of trying to build products that would appeal to “the digerati” or “West Coast elite,” as Ask had been, he wants to focus Ask on meeting the needs of its core audience, predominantly women who use the site to ask questions about topics like entertainment and health. To do that, he says the company will launch new products and enhance its technology through efforts like pulling in more community-generated answers.”

Rafat adds: Will the reworked Ask work? One word: No. At the risk of overusing a cliched phrase twice in one day, everyone and their mother-in-law is going after the mother and married woman audience. Forrester analyst Charlene Li sees it differently: she predicted many married women and mothers will be thrilled to have a search engine focusing on their interests. “It’s not so much that these women have simple questions…It’s just that they are so busy that they need fast answers.” Um, another one-word: Google.

3 Responses to “’s Safka: 40 Jobs Cuts; ‘Reevaluating’ Product; Ditching The ‘Digerati’”

  1. ActualUSer

    I think you guys are missing the point. For Ask to be a smash hit for IAC, they only need to grow share a tiny bit. Like a few points.

    Now ask yourself whether they are more likely to gain that share by trying to be the ultimate deep Web search engine, or by focusing on a brand and set of features that will appeal to the audience that is already using and has been loyal to the site.

    What most people don't know is that AskJeeves didn't have porn for a long time. For mothers (and feminists) like me, that's a huge deal.

    This one actually seems like a no-brainer to me.

  2. Agree with JB – Ask is in big trouble.

    The key insight is what, that women search differently than men? That people in the midwest search differently than people on the coasts? Def feels like AOL.

    Safka is the wrong guy to turn Ask around. He's a marketer with no real product sensibility. What did he do at Match or AT&T;that was worthwhile? Seems like he stepped on a steaming pile here…

  3. so what they're saying is that their user base are the ones who used Ask Jeeves rather than the digital "elite" that actually knows which is a good search engine and how to use it? Didn't need to rebrand it as Ask to achieve that. Sounds a bit like the AOL strategy of yesteryear: target the late adopters who don't know enough to go to a more sophisticated service. Good luck with that.