Ask.com, the fourth-largest search engine on the Web, on Monday launched a local search service that could prove to be a strong competitor to similar offerings from Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo.
AskCity is unique because it integrates services from other Web properties owned by parent IAC/InterActiveCorp, which is run by media mogul Barry Diller. Those properties include CitySearch, ReserveAmerica, ServiceMagic, Ticketmaster, and TicketWeb. In addition, AskCity incorporates services from IAC partners.
IAC bought search engine Ask Jeeves last year in a stock deal valued at $1.85 billion. The parent relaunched the site as Ask.com, dumping its familiar mascot, the imaginary English butler Jeeves. Since then, analysts have wondered how long it would take IAC to integrate its other Web services with the search engine.
"This is really a big move forward for [IAC] to show the world that they know how to bring all these properties together," says Allen Weiner, an analyst for Gartner. "They show that they get it."
The site establishes a platform for the potential integration of other IAC properties, such as the Expedia travel site or the LendingTree home mortgage and refinancing site, Weiner said. Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo could match many of these services, but they will have to sign partnerships with other companies to do so.
AskCity integrates maps with information on local businesses, restaurants, concerts, movie listings, and reviews in an "all-in-one" user interface. Actual transactions are done outside of AskCity. For example, to buy event or movie tickets or to make restaurant reservations, users can click on links to Ticketmaster and IAC partners Fandango and OpenTable, respectively. If a person was searching for home improvement contractors or to book a campsite, then AskCity provides links to IAC's ServiceMagic and ReserveAmerica, respectively.
In addition, the site lets people save information, such as their itinerary for a day on the town, and then send it to friends and family. Street maps, or aerial maps of locations, can be saved, annotated, and shared.
Local search is a potential multibillion-dollar market for search engines. While most small businesses have yet to take advantage of online advertising, that's expected to change once they realize the popularity of local search.
In July, 63% of U.S. Internet users, or about 109 million people, looked for products and services near their homes or a locale they planned to visit, according to comScore Networks. Among people using local search in the second quarter, 41% contacted a merchant offline, and 37% made contact online.
Google and Yahoo were neck and neck in market share, with 29.8% and 29.2% of all local searches, comScore says. Microsoft sites, including MSN, were third, with 12.3% of the market.
In October, Ask.com was the fourth-largest search engine in terms of market share, with 5.8% of all Web searches, according to comScore. Google was No. 1 with 45.4%, followed by Yahoo, 28.2%, and Microsoft sites, 11.7%.