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Monday, February 27, 2006

So Long, Jeeves. Long Live Ask.com.

Jeeves, you had a good run. Not many guys can say they launched a lucrative IPO and kept the press and British schoolchildren interested enough in a brand that it lasted seven years. You even spawned a range of sarcastic columns. And speculation. "Is Jeeves gay?" is one of the more common questions asked of you. That put you right up there on the map with cultural icons like Tom Cruise, and Spongebob.

But you've outlasted your usefulness. The dudes with the capital just invested a whack of money on a search engine... they didn't need your ambiguity and low-tech image cluttering up the works. This is 2006! Time to drop the training wheels and use the full range of search engine features, like maps (check out the AJAX!), dictionaries, and blog search. So, thanks for the memories.

As confirmed in a keynote conversation with Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Strategies today, at the behest of IAC Interactive CEO Barry Diller, the lovable character is being retired. In his view, the butler icon was "baggage" that "niched, or segregated, us."

Diller harbors no illusions that Ask.com will rocket to #1 in the market overnight. But he does feel that no media business stays at "30% or 40% market share forever." While acknowledging that "habit is a tough thing to break" -- joking to conference attendees that you should all "rush back to your rooms now and change your [searching] habits immediately"-- Diller has enough experience in the "storytelling and narrative" (Paramount Pictures, Fox) business to know that "these things can break down over time." From his comments today, it's clear that IAC is in the search business for the long haul, and don't expect overnight success. Rather, they expect to work hard at building better products, because if it isn't "good" and "differentiated," says Diller, it "doesn't have any reason for being."

Today's one of those days, as it always seems to be when a major figure does a keynote at SES New York, that it feels like "our day." You come out of a room packed with people listening to a leader in the search industry, and into an elevator playing a top business story on CNN: "Ask Boots Butler." Man, they're talking about "us"! Again.

The outgoing valet will be feted in a stylish bash tonight. Even I'm invited, according to the Ask.com Blog. I'm just glad they didn't post something about Barry Lloyd wanting to marry me.

Just one more question about the day's events. Why doesn't Danny get nervous up there? I'm pretty sure most of the rest of us would. :)

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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