Pink Search Stinks

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…

3 Comments »

  1. It’s completely coincidental to receive a notice from the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford about a forum next week featuring Myra Hart, Harvard professor and a fellow at the Institute this Spring.

    The forum, “Gendered Innovations in Science and Engineering II: Fix the Knowledge,” takes place Thursday, March 13 and Friday, March 14, and will be held in Room 101 of the David Packard Building, 350 Serra Mall
    (directions are at http://ee.stanford.edu/). The event is free and no pre-registration is required.

    Two panels of interest:

    FRIDAY, MARCH 14, 1:00pm-1:30pm:
    Keynote address by Myra Hart, Professor of Management Practice, Harvard Business School

    FRIDAY, MARCH 14,1:30pm – 3:00pm:
    Women in Silicon Valley?s Entrepreneurial Culture: panel of women business leaders and VCs
    Moderator: Professor Myra Hart
    Panelists: Joyce Chung, Garage Technology Ventures; Diane Greene, VMware CEO; and Ann Winblad, Hummer Winblad

  2. […] makes them tick, technologically speaking. We return to this topic often on The Guidewire, most recently when Ask.com decided to paint their search engine pink and call it targeted. Women are a lucrative […]

  3. […] was also one of dismissal and “what the hell are they thinking?” You may remember my own rant a couple of months ago about Ask’s development of a search engine targeted to suburban women […]

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