Ten years ago, Ask Jeeves was the friendly butler – the genteel gentleman who served up search results when you looked for information online. Today the site’s progeny, Ask.com, competes in the hot question-and-answer space, propelled by an advertising blitz that includes movie theater commercials.

This is the story of a site that survived a scare from Google by shifting its focus, a site that still gets enough traffic after all these years to be ranked among the top 10 U.S. websites by comScore.


By Jeeves

Ask Jeeves was founded back in 1996 in Berkeley, Calif., as a way for searchers to get answers to their online questions through traditional keyword searching and questions posed in everyday language. Jeeves became a well-known brand that helped distinguish the company its amidst competitors in the early years of search. In 2005, Ask Jeeves was acquired by IAC, a global media and Internet company, and the Jeeves character was later phased out, at least in the United States, with the site becoming known as Ask.com.

Like many other search companies, Ask.com ultimately couldn’t compete with the likes of Google, which came to dominate the market with its proprietary search algorithm and an obsession with relevance and speed. Ask.com shifted its focus in late 2010 from search to Q&A as it faced an uphill battle as a distant third to Google and Microsoft. Ad Age opined “The Long, Sad Story of Ask.com” – predicting further difficulties for the site in Q&A. But the old butler wasn’t ready to hang up his platter just yet.

Adding to the answer frenzy

Somehow Ask.com has done more than just endure as it competes with Q&A sites like Yahoo! Answers, ChaCha and Quora. Today, Ask has more than 100 million users who ask questions ranging from “How long do goldfish live?” to “What do you do for a blistered burn?” You simply type a question into the bar at the top and click “Find Answers.” You can also click on the Q&A Community tab to browse a plethora of Q&A categories (and many visitors are in the mood to browse rather than find a single answer).

Ask.com made a couple of notable acquisitions last year as it strove to emerge as a Q&A notable. First came the acquisition of nRelate, a content discovery platform that provides products like plug-ins for thousands of content publishers. Ask followed that up with the purchase of About.com, a top 20 U.S. web property that had produced several million articles written by subject matter experts.

The moves came in a year when everyone seemed to be talking about the rise of question and answer communities like Quora, where you can not only ask questions, but also share your own knowledge and engage thought leaders. Many would think that the Q&A space might not be much easier to win than search.

But today Ask.com is in a hiring mode as it puts a greater emphasis on content. It is also using social media rock star Instagram in its latest bid to engage users.

So, what are your thoughts on Ask? Are you surprised that the company has experienced a resurgence in its Q&A incarnation? We’d love to hear your thoughts about Ask or Q&A communities in general.