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New AskCity Integrates Local Content, Technology, and Tools
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Posted On December 11, 2006
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Ask.com, which has struggled for a share of the Web search market in the face of Google dominance, is hoping to make its mark in providing local search information. Ask.com, a division of IAC Search & Media (formerly Ask Jeeves, Inc.), a wholly-owned business of IAC/InterActiveCorp., has just launched AskCity, a new one-stop search service that the company hopes will lure users with its combination of content, technology, and tools—plus superior search results. AskCity is available at http://city.ask.com as well as from the Ask.com home page.

The folks at Ask.com claim that AskCity offers users a superior local search experience for several reasons. It integrates four specialized search engines into one service—Business and Services, Events, Movies, and Maps and Directions. It uses Ask.com's proprietary search algorithms. It taps some of the best local-themed content from around the Web, including from sister IAC properties such as Citysearch and from many other content partners. And, finally, it offers unique tools for interacting with the data and then moving from information to action—such as buying tickets or booking a restaurant reservation.

Ask.com had a big advantage in being able to leverage content from other IAC companies—so far it has worked with six of them (see the list of partners below). "Content is one key to doing local search right, and as part of IAC, Ask.com had unfiltered access to our sister companies' leading local content," said Jim Lanzone, CEO of Ask.com. "We were able to remix that content using our own search recipe, combine it with content from many non-IAC companies, and design our own experience around it. The result is, we believe, the most comprehensive and flat-out helpful local search product available."

Ask.com has also made excellent use of more than 20 other content resources, pulling in business information from InfoUSA, neighborhood data from UrbanMapping (which allows for very cool searching within neighborhood boundaries), providing direct access to user reviews and ticketing resources, and more. The company stresses the "actionability" of the service.

"We know that for most people, using a local search engine is just the first step in a process that ends with taking some type of action—booking a restaurant reservation, making a service appointment, buying movie or event tickets, or driving to a local store," said Doug Leeds, vice president of product management at Ask.com. "We designed AskCity to make it easier and faster to use a search engine to help accomplish tasks like these."

While users can, of course, surf to individual Web sites to get local information and take action, with AskCity, it's all in one place. The broad aggregation of content makes this a very useful tool. It pulls the results content into a single panel for easy scanning with an interactive map on the right side. AskCity also provides the tools for users to create driving and walking directions, pinpoint sites on a map, draw and mark up the map (park here, meet here, etc.), save it for future use, e-mail it, etc. Users can even send a text message with a business listing to a mobile phone.

Gary Price, director of online info resources at Ask.com, said, "The inclusiveness of the data and the way users can interact with it make [AskCity] a very robust product—one that will just get better over time." Price admitted that there are some other good local search products out there. "It's good for users to have multiple choices in search tools. It's all about the right tool at the right time." And, Price feels that AskCity offers users some very compelling technology and tools—he specifically mentioned the walking directions, the disambiguation box, the Pin It tool, and the ability to search within neighborhood and ZIP code boundaries.

General consensus gleaned from blogger and media comments indicates that AskCity is a strong competitor to the local search services from Google, Yahoo!, and MSN. Michael Arrington called it "cool" in the TechCrunch blog and wrote that it would become the new "go to source for maps and local business information."

According to Ryan Massie, director of product management for AskCity, the company plans to develop additional verticals and provide even deeper information. For example, information on parking lots, ATMs, WiFi hotspots, and libraries is already available but will be enriched and enhanced. He also said that there are no sponsored listings at this point in AskCity, but these could be added soon. "We just focused on getting the product out the door." It had been in planning and development for the past year. Ask launched a mobile version of Ask.com a few months ago, and Massie said the new AskCity will eventually be available for mobile users as well.

Ask.com has included content from Citysearch since 2004 for results from local searches through Ask's Smart Search technology. The content was licensed through a partnership agreement before the owner of Citysearch, IAC/InterActiveCorp., acquired Ask.com in July 2005.

Interestingly, Citysearch made its own announcement a few days after the launch of AskCity, pointing out that it was indeed supplying content for Citysearch but also stressing its unique offerings (a bit of sibling rivalry?). The press release stated:

"Citysearch provides deep content beyond that which is surfaced within AskCity, including information on the latest trends and recommendations, giving consumers the enhanced ability to explore the cities they live in and visit. In addition to providing four sources of content, Citysearch offers consumers featured programming, editorial lists and targeted newsletters recommending fun ideas, events, and places to visit in all major cities nationwide. These editorial lists include monthly, seasonal, and holiday features, which set it apart from the competition."

Greg Sterling wrote in the Search Engine Journal that "Citysearch is a little bit of the ‘Rodney Dangerfield' of local search, having been around since the beginning and sometimes forgotten in all the coverage about G vs. Y vs. M vs. Yelp, et al."

But, as Briggs Ferguson, CEO of Citysearch pointed out: "Citysearch merchants will benefit from increased exposure on the Ask network and consumers will benefit from AskCity's integrated set of tools married with Citysearch's high quality content. What's more, this new offering speaks to IAC's commitment to find connection points between its businesses, work collaboratively across business units, and innovate in the market for direct consumer benefit."

AskCity Partners
From IAC:
• Citysearch • ServiceMagic
• Ticketmaster • TicketWeb
• ReserveAmerica • Tripadvisor
From other sources:
• InfoUSA • deCarta
• Navteq • Teleatlas
• GlobeExplorer • UrbanMapping
• StepUp • MuseumTix
• Active • EventSource
• Fandango • Tribune
• OpenTable • ClubPlanet
• Hawaii Ticketing • StubHub
• Ticketnetwork • RazorGator
• Ticketsnow • Telecharge
• Viator • GoCard
• Wcities-

Local Information Search Sites
http://city.ask.com [or from Ask.com's home page]
http://www.citysearch.com
http://www.google.com/maps
http://local.yahoo.com
http://local.live.com [Microsoft]


Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.


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