Ask.com’s Safka: 40 Jobs Cuts; ‘Reevaluating’ Product; Ditching The ‘Digerati’

IAC-owned search engine Ask.com 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.

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