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Ask.com's Next Steps - To 'Platform' or not to 'Platform'?

At an investor conference held this past Tuesday, Barry Diller of IAC Search & Media stated that Ask.com would focus on serving ads from syndicated partners. Diller comments, "There are three players who seem to be anxious to talk to us about serving ads after '07". Ask's current relationship with Google expires at the end of 2007. Yahoo and MSN must have their eye on Ask's traffic, but at what price? I think Google would be willing to pay substantially to keep Ask as a Google Network member (like the Google /AOL alliance of late 2005). Diller cited the importance of growing search volume to increase revenues. Ask is running TV ads to this end, promoting Ask as the search engine for humans. So, just when it looked like Ask.com was dropping the idea of running on their own platform, IAC's VP of Marketing, James Speer pulled a 180 today and called for "...building out a much more competitive platform on a lot of fronts." Huh? Which way is Ask headed? To survive, Ask needs to grow their share before '08. When the Google contract expires, they need to present the growing value of their name, and ultimately capture a larger ticket. My opinion: Ask.com should scrap its platform and continue to serving syndicated ads. Ask can not bear the cost of maintaining a world-class search ad platform on only 5% of search market revenues.
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