IAC/InterActiveCorp today took the wraps off its new local search product, AskCity, which heavily integrates content from other IAC properties as well as partner sites.
The service combines Ask.com's local search and mapping features with business listings, events, and movie listings. It is accessible both on its own AskCity site, or as a toolbar on Ask.com's home page.
"The main goal here is to drive frequency and usage of Ask.com," Ryan Massie, director of product management at Ask.com, told ClickZ. "We have a lot of unique and useful tools, and we expect that presenting them in this way will lead people to use the site more."
There are currently not any ads on the AskCity service, but the company will consider adding relevant ads in the future, he said. "We're being careful to focus on creating the best user experience, and to give users what they want. Our first concern is to give good results, which will get people to use the site more and keep coming back."
Depending on the type of search, content in AskCity search results could come from one of IAC's own sites, like CitySearch, Reserve America, ServiceMagic, Ticketmaster, TicketWeb or TripAdvisor. Or it could come from third-party sites like Eventsource, Fandango, MuseumTix, Opentable, or StepUp. Only about a fifth of links on AskCity go to other IAC-owned sites, Massie said. The outbound links are not part of any sponsorship packages, but are partnerships with third-party sites that IAC thinks its users would find valuable.
In some cases, users can click directly to the partner's site to complete a transaction, such as buying event tickets from IAC's Ticketmaster and TicketWeb; buying movie tickets from Fandango; reserving a table at Opentable; or setting an appointment with a contractor through IAC's ServiceMagic.
The initiative marks the biggest cross-company integration to date, a priority of IAC since it acquired Ask.com last year. The company began by adding Ask.com search boxes to all IAC properties, and then began planning tighter integration earlier this year. IAC's chairman and CEO Barry Diller said in August that IAC would spend the second half of 2006 focusing on increasing integration between Ask.com and CitySearch, among other IAC properties. Diller spilled the beans about the service at a media conference last week.
“Thanks to our sister IAC companies, Ask.com had unprecedented access to their proprietary, best-in-class vertical content,” said Jim Lanzone, CEO of Ask.com. “This allowed us to remix their ingredients using our own search recipe, creating a better end product for our users.”
None of the sites that feed into AskCity will be de-emphasized in any way, nor will CitySearch be phased out, according to Lanzone.
The AskCity interface is built in AJAX, similar to Google Maps and Yahoo's new home page. That technology allows Ask to display changes on the page without refreshing the whole page.
While other local search products focus on the maps, AskCity gives equal space to the search refinement options, search results, and the map.
"Currently available local products go too far in making the map the center of attention. The people we talked to don't want a map to dominate the page; they'd rather see the local listings first, then dig into the maps for more detail," Massie said.
Once users are ready to use the map, they'll find features to annotate, save and share it. Users can also "pin" results on the map, so they will remain on the map while the user continues searching for other locations, or builds an itinerary.
The company chose to name the service "AskCity" because it found that the "local" appellation favored by many local search services is misleading to consumers, who associate the term with local news, or local business listings, Massie said. "We wanted to be sure everyone knew it was much more than that," he said.
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Kevin Newcomb joined ClickZ in August 2004, covering search marketing and other online marketing topics. He has been reporting on web-based businesses since 2000.
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