Ask Jeeves Brings Search to Tickle

Social network and quiz aggregator Tickle launched a “people search” service on its network that includes AskJeeves’ Teoma search results, as well as paid listings through AskJeeves’ separate distribution pact with Google.

The partnership fuses the uncertain social networking phenomenon with a search model that has proven invaluable to both consumers and marketers on the public Internet.

Social networking sites have largely failed to cash in on their enormous user bases. They’re under growing pressure to develop viable business models, as well as to demonstrate a value to users that goes beyond novelty.

Search is a natural way for online social networking to move forward, according to Tickle CEO James Currier.

“The advent of Web search in the 1990’s taught us to query text data pages instead of talking with each other,” Currier said. “Tickle people search brings online search full circle, back to letting us find the right people to talk to.”

When searching on a keyword or phrase, Tickle users can choose whether to see people results, broad Web results, or both together. The company is betting the prospect of peer-to-peer advice from within one’s own circle of contacts will prove popular.

To articulate the value proposition to users, Tickle invoked the example of a woman who is in the market for a home. By querying “mortgage” on the search engine, she turns up a list of her first and second-degree Tickle network friends with expertise in mortgages. Any of these she can then contact directly. A friend-of-a-friend mortgage broker may actually earn business this way, Tickle declared.

A useful corollary to this approach is the ability to serve keyword-based ads matched to search terms on the social network. When users run a search on Tickle, Google’s sponsored listings appear above AskJeeves’ algorithmic results. (When a visitor opts to search for people only, the sponsored listings are not displayed.)

Although Google had no hand in the deal, revenues will trickle back to the company, which has distributed its paid listings to AskJeeves for going on two years. AskJeeves, through its pending acquisition of Interactive Search Holdings, has plans to expand its distribution of Google listings through its own network, as well. In the first quarter of 2004, the company attributed 69 percent of its revenues to the relationship with Google.

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