Berkowitz is leaving to head up Microsoft's Windows Live and MSN efforts, including search. Lanzone, formerly general manager at Ask.com, talked with CNET News.com about his plans for the search engine company that was acquired by Barry Diller's InterActiveCorp last year.
Q: Steve Berkowitz has been given much credit for the turnaround of Ask.com. Can you comment on what effect his departure will have on the company?
Lanzone: Well, you know, my objective is to continue down the road we're already on, in terms of the strategies for growth (and) for the way we operate the business. I think we feel very good about the way things are going for Ask, and really I just want to help push us faster down the path we're already on.
Are there any nondisclosure concerns with his moving to MSN?
Lanzone: Probably not. I'm probably not the best person to answer that.
What's it going to be like competing against your former boss?
Lanzone: Well, from what I understand, his scope will be a lot broader than search, which is where Ask is focused and why we think we're growing market share. People are definitely focused on a lot of things, and we've been focused on delivering our great products for our users in core search, which has a lot of room to grow in terms of innovation...When Steve was here, we enjoyed taking a bite out of the big guys, and we'll continue to enjoy that going forward.
Can you talk about the market share gains and how things are going at Ask since you launched with the new name and the new design?
Lanzone: We grew 7 percent in March, according to ComScore, and much of that was due to user experience and growth in retention of users and adding more everyday users. With Ask Jeeves, we were sort of an occasional use search engine for questions and answers, and a lot of our growth now is focused on becoming someone's primary search engine or alternative everyday search engine. So people have been very satisfied and the buzz out there about Ask is at an all-time high, and we just want to keep pushing the envelope in the areas we're already focused.
So you're still ranked No. 5. Can you tell when you're going to race ahead of the others and how you're going to compete against them, especially the likes of Google and Yahoo?
Lanzone: Growth for Ask should be measured against Ask as a percentage of our growth. What could be perceived to be a small market share gain relative to where the big guys are at is actually a huge percentage gain for the Ask business, and that's what makes us successful. That's what makes our business grow; it makes revenue grow. So, it's more comparable I would say to network television, where it's not as (if) one network gets all the viewers. Any point of share that Ask gains has a substantial impact on the success of our business. And so, really, we're focused on every point of share we can get and that is a long-term project for us. And we think we have good insight and strategy for how to go about it, and we're going to keep going down that path.
How does Ask differentiate itself from the other search engines?
Lanzone: Well, one way is that we're not a portal, and we're not being distracted by anything beyond core search. (Ask is innovating in areas like image search)...Our launch of image search in January has been called the best in the industry, was in an area that really hadn't been talked about in three years. But that's the second-leading kind of search performed on a search engine. So by improving that for users we doubled the number of searches done on our site in image search in three months, and that helped us grow market share.
That's one way (we differentiate), by focusing on where users need better products. The other way is through our differentiated tools. Searches are no longer just about getting you a relevant result. That was a novel concept in 2001 and 2002...Ask differentiates through a unique set of tools we've built, such as related search and binoculars and smart answers. When people are (aware) of these, we see our frequency and retention of usage grow significantly.
You said you're not going to get distracted by anything beyond search and you're not a portal. So I take it then you won't ever be moving into offering original content like Yahoo is doing, even if you could leverage the IAC relationship?
Lanzone: I don't know about IAC's plans for that...But for the Ask business we are focused wholeheartedly on core search, and the things that essentially bring us into areas that are traditionally associated with a portal such as news, weather, maps, directions. The way people get to that information through a search engine is through that one-way box. And so our user experience is geared towards giving people what they want through that search box, and that's a different approach from the way a portal would approach it.
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