So the wires are aflame with the news that Microsoft and Yahoo have “joined forces” in a 10-year search and advertising deal.

Search and destroy

Let’s be clear on this one: Microsoft isn’t partnering with Yahoo. It’s devouring it. It’s gobbling it up whole like a party snack before moving onto its next conquest. The argument, of course, is that not having to fund search will save Yahoo “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Well done. If Nike halted the production of shoes it would save itself hundreds of millions of dollars too. The only drawback being they’d have bugger-all to sell. All of which begs the question: is Yahoo nothing more than a brand?

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Yahoo is a husk

Is it an ironic coincidence that “the term “Yahoo” has become synonymous with “cretin,” “dinosaur,” and/or “Neanderthal?”
It seems their misappropriation of Swift’s literary savages has finally come to define them. They’re out of touch; a member of a collective of prehistoric companies that include the likes of AOL, whose search has stalled but just about manages to scrape a revenue through the hillbillies, the half-dead and the Luddites who still use dial-up.

Wrong deal, wrong time

Yahoo chief Carol Bartz said: “This agreement comes with boatloads of value for Yahoo, our users, and the industry. And I believe it establishes the foundation for a new era of internet innovation and development.”

Note the “boatloads of value,” in pointed contradiction to the “boatloads of money” Bartz previously promised to shareholders. Seems that promise was a boatload of (*cough*) bravado. Yahoo’s stock mirrors this disappointment, with share price taking a 7% drop immediately after the announcement. The deal is certainly a far cry from the $44.6bn bid Microsoft made for Yahoo in February 2008.

Microsoft should be pretty pleased

Bing was always a way for Microsoft to acquire Yahoo. But it wasn’t a cheap ploy; they’ve come up with a decent search engine that even breaks some new ground.  It embraces real-time search by incorporating Twitter results and it bundles in other nice touches like video previews straight from the results page. They’ve even chosen the name carefully, making sure it can be used as a verb – “I binged it.” It does, in fact, make Google look a little bit lazy – and out of touch. As well as Wave and Chrome, which mean nothing yet to the consumer, Google’s most recent activity includes, err, adding the pointless ability for users to personalise their search results and … oh yeah, taking Gmail out of beta after five years. Let’s face it – that’s a bit lame, Google. Next you’ll be taking lessons off Ask Jeeves.
Yahoo! is dead. Long live Microsoft.

Is Ask’s marketing strategy a gift or a curse? I think it’s a bit of both. (Whatever the case, my mother-in-law literally thinks there is a real man called Jeeves who answers your questions when you hit the Search button.)

Apparently Scott Garrell, president of Ask Networks, said in a recent interview: “In a very tough and competitive market, we’re holding our own… people don’t talk in keywords.”

Well, my mother-in-law doesn’t, but then she can’t set the timer on the microwave. It’s always 00:00 in that house. It’s like Groundhog Day, only far less interesting and without the inestimable hangdog charm of Bill Murray.

But I digress. Interestingly, Ask.com’s share of U.S. search queries dropped from 4.5 percent in May 2008 to 3.9 percent in May of this year, while market leader Google grew its share from 61.8 percent to 65 percent (according to comScore). Of course, Garrell is quick to point out the search engine handled 486 million U.S. queries in May 2008 and 555 million in May of this year.

Well done, Ask. You’ve cornered the market for idiots who can barely dress themselves.

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I guess this was mostly from people typing in queries like: “How do I tie my own shoelaces?”

Garrell adds: “We get more queries in the form of a question than the industry average, and we get queries that are longer.”

Of course you do. You’ve branded yourself “Ask Jeeves” and have a big picture of a butler on your homepage. Well done, Ask. You’ve cornered the market for idiots who can barely dress themselves. (However, it might not be all bad – these are exactly the kind of people who’re going to click on the first ad that comes up.)

Surely people have changed the way they use the web so that semantic search is a little redundant? And it’s not even as if Ask have nailed it. There’s clearly still a long, long way to go if this company wants to nail semantic search – and let’s face it, it is a gargantuan task. Yahoo! Answers probably does a better job for any idiosyncratic queries while *any* other search engine will latch onto the relevant keywords in the query and return an answer as good as Ask’s.

They do a bunch of good, useful satellite domains like dictionary.com, and they’re still a presence in the search market – but not for much longer. Ask’s core customer base is a dying breed.