The first thing I thought when I read that Ask was abandoning its general search engine strategy was Well, that’s irony for you. (Wait, I tell a lie. The first thought was “It’s way too early for April Fool.” But the second was the irony thing.)
Here’s the irony: PG Wodehouse had a thing about aunts. If you’ve ever read his books, you’ve discovered that aunts tend to show up as villains, or at least party-poopers. (Notable exception: Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Dahlia. Most of the time.) His characters are not shy about expressing anti-aunt sentiments (See the Wikipedia entry on Aunt Agatha for some great quotes.)
So Ask goes from Ask Jeeves, to just Ask, to catering to married women. From much-loved Jeeves, in other words, to much-reviled (at least by him) aunts. Poor PG.
The SF Gate has an article on the whole situation and I see upon reading it closely that Ask is going from Jeeves, in fact, to me. A married woman, an aunt (heck, a great-aunt) who uses the Internet. Ask is going to concentrate on a small segment of the Internet population — married women who need help managing their lives — and abandon the general search engine thing entirely. In the process, there’s been a small number of layoffs, including my good friend Gary Price.
SF Gate refers to Ask as an “also-ran” among search engines. Five years ago I would have agreed completely. Now, I don’t think so. Had this shift in focus happened five years ago, I would not have much cared. Now, I care very much. Ask in the last couple of years has come up with some great offerings. The mapping service. The packed-with-data-but-still-usable search results. The terrific page preview with statistics. AskEraser. And Bloglines. (Hopefully, Bloglines will go on.) So many great things — I’m sad and sorry that Ask isn’t staying in the game.
So far all the announcements I’ve seen about the Ask shift have been from news sources — I have yet to see a blog entry or press release from Ask itself. Perhaps we’ll see something today.