So Ask.com CEO Jim Lanzone has skipped town to the comfortable arms of a venture capital company. I might too if my share of the top-line search market hovered between 4.6 and 5 percent.
I have no envy for any man or woman trying to gain share versus Google, Yahoo or Microsoft on search. It is such a three-horse race right now.
Seriously though, sources tell me Lanzone was not forced out but left of his own accord -- this part is public knowledge -- for the cushy and amorphous-sounding role of entrepreneur-in-residence at Redpoint Ventures. Huh? That sounds like the kind of position that comes with an Italian leather sofa.
Enter Jim Safka as new CEO, where he will be expected to lead the company's charge into 2008 and presumably beyond, helping the company bring the collective intelligence search concept to fruition.
Safka is also still the CEO of Primal Ventures, which identifies seeds and incubates business opportunities for IAC. The man was also CEO of Match.com from 2004 to 2006, so he knows a thing or two about hawking an online dating site. Clearly, Safka is Barry Diller's chosen one du jour. I have no problem with that.
What I do have a concern about, is whether one man can toe the line as CEO of two companies. That's all well and good if mothership IAC wants to tab Ask.com its go-to business, but why the heck would you have one guy manage Ask.com and Primal when you're charged with growing Ask.com? Oh, and I assume Diller wants Primal to succeed, too.
This is insanity. How can Ask.com expect to gain share behind a leader who has to divide his time between two units? That's just like the thinking of a media conglomerate; have guys with hands in multiple pies, none of which end up being very tasty.
Safka is, apparently, a marketing whiz, whereas Lanzone was a product guy. Marketing is great, and Google, Yahoo and Microsoft all do it well, but Ask.com needed to have quality marketing before the gap got so big between itself and the others in the search market.
Marketing won't save Ask.com now, so Safka's appointment, if it was made because of his marketing chops, seems a bit backward.
That leaves Ask.com to hang its hat on its technology. I appreciate the steps Ask.com made with 3D last summer, but all of the big search engines have tailored their platforms to this universal search approach of offering links, pictures and a lot of ancillary results.
AskEraser is a clever tool to attract attention, too, and could be attractive to users who hate their data to be saved on search engines.
But unless this so-called Ask 4D, hopefully armed with social networking features and collective intelligence, is something special, expect Ask.com's already slight search market share to drop below 4 percent this year instead of gaining ground on Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.