The news from Ask.com today has shocked many. Conceding the broad search space to Google, Ask is narrowing its focus to married women in the flyover states (my wording), who “need help managing their lives.” The new search site will “concentrate on finding answers to basic questions about recipes, hobbies, children’s homework, entertainment and health.” The implication being that women aren’t finding what they’re looking for on Google.
As a married mother living in the Texas suburbs, I’m in the unique position of being both an analyst of search technologies and in Ask’s new target demographic. I see multiple problems from both angles. As a technologist, I believe the path to search success lies in broadening, rather than narrowing, your audience. Searchers, no matter their gender, want to know they’re getting the best result from the broadest range of sources on any subject in the world. Assuming any group of people only want results on and from a limited pool just doesn’t make sense. As a married woman, well, I use a wide variety of engines for various search needs and they’re all filling the bill just fine.
To avoid clouding the issue with bias on either side, though, I interviewed a friend, stay-at-home mom of three boys, Polly. Her response:
What are they filtering out that I won’t/can’t understand? I feel I’m being told that I’m too dumb for Google. I’m not feeling any insufficiency in my search. It sounds to me like an easy way to sell advertising.
She was particularly bothered by the “southern, midwestern” classification, which implies women on the coasts are doing just fine with their searches. Frankly, what Ask is doing is reinforcing every stereotype of a Midwest housewife and I don’t think it will be particularly welcomed in this day and age.
Unless Ask has plans to integrate a heavy social presence into the site, I can’t see this succeeding. One of the biggest mistakes a company can make is to underestimate its users. I think Ask just did that in spades.
**Note: we contacted Ask for commentary and did not hear back. I’d love to hear their reasoning behind this move.
**And another update: Ask is now backpedaling, telling Forbes that the AP report was “erroneous” and has since been changed. I’m with Blogoscoped here: anyone have a copy of the retraction from AP? It would also seem to me that if Ask truly wanted to correct the messaging, they would have jumped to respond to me yesterday. We’ll continue to keep an eye out…