Ask.com is to abandon its attempts to challenge the search engine market, and will go back to its roots as a provider of answers.
The firm announced the about turn in a blog post by Ask.com president Doug Leeds, who wrote that he "wanted to share some difficult news made known to our employees today".
Leeds revealed that the company had closed offices in America and China as part of its plans to turn the business around.
"This move was and is difficult, mostly due to the talent, hard work, perseverance and friendship that we have shared with the teams in these offices over many years," he said.
"But we feel strongly that, in the long run, this is ultimately best for the Ask.com business and its users."
Leeds explained that the decision to abandon search was made for a number of reasons, all of which will benefit the company and its products. Importantly, it will also help Ask.com to narrow its focus.
"As our loyal staff knows best, Ask.com has taken a lot of flak through the years, fairly and unfairly, for not having a focused, cohesive strategy, and for ping-ponging across different approaches and marketing tactics," he said.
"We know that receiving answers to questions is why Ask.com users come to the site, and we are now serving them in everything we do."
Leeds confirmed that Ask.com is withdrawing from the search market, and will use third-party services to fulfil that function. The company will consolidate its offices in one location, allowing its development teams to work "side by side, face to face, idea to idea, as much as possible".
"We need a team that is able to work. We simply aren't able to do that with our team fractured across the country, across the globe," said Leeds.
Ask.com has struggled to compete in a market dominated by Google and Microsoft, and managed just two per cent of US web searches in August, according to the latest figures from Nielsen. Google has a 65 per cent chunk of the market.
The decision will mean layoffs, but Leeds said that Ask.com will make this as painless as possible for those affected.
Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, suggested that Ask.com’s move had been a certainty for sometime.
“Ask.com became irrelevant some time ago and many probably thought it had gone under," he explained. “The brand survives but it simply wasn’t able to keep up with the big players and dropped by the wayside.”
Enderle suggested that rather than adopt a third party search technology, Ask was more likely to find itself a target for acquisition.
“There is some residual value there that either Google or Microsoft might be interested in but it wouldn’t be a big number and Microsoft may be hungrier for share at the moment than Google is," he explained.
“But both could pass and, if that happens, given Ask probably doesn’t trust either company very much which one they end up with would be little more than a flip of a coin.”
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