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Ask.com Settling Down as Reference Site?
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Posted On May 27, 2008
After months of turmoil within Ask.com (www.ask.com) and its parent, IAC/InterActiveCorp. (www.iac.com), the acquisition of Lexico Publishing Group, LLC (www.lexico.com) and its reference properties, including Dictionary.com, Thesaurus.com, and Reference.com, could help distinguish Ask.com as a reference site. According to a May 22, 2008, release from comScore, the Ask Network is the fifth largest web search engine with a 4.3% share of searches, just behind AOL (4.6%) and Microsoft (9.1%). Yahoo! had 20.4% of searches, and, of course, Google continued to increase its massive lead with 61.6%. The addition of Lexico is predicted to grow the Ask Network userbase by 11% to a total of more than 145 million unique users each month, making it the ninth largest web property. Answers Corp. (www.answers.com) had announced its intention to acquire Lexico last year, but the deal fell through due to lack of financing.

Jim Safka, new CEO of Ask.com and formerly head of IAC’s Match.com dating service, described Lexico as "a lean and fast-growing business with rapid top- and bottom-line growth, and is a natural addition for Ask.com. More than 30 percent of all searches conducted on Ask.com are in the reference category. In fact, ‘dictionary’ was the second-most searched term on Ask.com in 2007. At the same time, Lexico’s consumers frequently seek out a search engine immediately before and after using one of Lexico’s sites. This acquisition expands Ask.com’s reach and aligns perfectly with our customers’ needs." Brian Kariger, CEO and co-founder of Lexico, stated, "I can’t imagine a better home for Lexico sites than Ask.com, given its leadership in search technology and product innovation. This integration will give the Lexico sites a better consumer experience and even more useful for finding answers."

The amount paid by IAC in the all-cash transaction was not announced, but Answers Corp. had announced a $100 million offer in 2007.

Lexico Publishing provides Dictionary.com; the Word of the Day Mailing List; Thesaurus.com, an online version of Roget’s New Millennium Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases; Reference.com, an encyclopedia, almanac, and general reference guide; and CleverKeys, a free software program providing instant access to definitions and synonyms for Windows and Macintosh programs. Dictionary.com, Thesaurus.com, and Reference.com combined to serve more than 28 million unique visitors as of March 2008. The Word of the Day Mailing List has more than 1 million subscribers. Lexico’s annual growth rate runs around 29%. Some 88% of its traffic involves users directly typing in Lexico site URL’s, which demonstrates brand strength.

In March, Ask.com laid off 40 staffers, about 8% of its employees. At the time, it also announced a future focus on specific portals for specific markets. Ask’s parent company, IAC, announced that it planned to spin off several divisions into separate companies. Liberty Media, a majority shareholder in IAC, protested the spinoff strategy and filed suit, which it lost in a Delaware court. This month, Barry Diller, chairman and CEO of IAC, and John Malone, chairman of Liberty Media, settled their dispute. By August, IAC should have split off four of its less productive and older businesses: Ticketmaster, HSN (Home Shopping Network), LendingTree and RealEstate.com, and Interval International, a time-share vacation exchange service. All the spinoffs will be publicly traded. The core IAC company will retain Ask.com, Match.com, and other ad-supported internet businesses.

The web startup sites new to IAC include a personal finance site called FiLife with a blog from Dow Jones & Co. (now owned by Murdoch’s News Corp.); InstantAction.com, a gaming platform; RushmoreDrive.com, a search engine aimed at African-Americans; a news aggregation site in partnership with Tina Brown; and a virtual world site aimed at children and adolescents with an emphasis on environmental concerns. Dictionary.com and Reference.com already receive a lot of use by children for homework, and IAC has just bought StarNet Interactive, owner of the GirlSense.com virtual world service. IAC’s web services also include Pronto.com for comparison shopping and a comedy news site.


Barbara Quint was senior editor of Online Searcher, co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, and a columnist for Information Today.


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