Ask Jeeves buys Bloglines
By Charlene Li
Ask Jeeves announced this evening that they have acquired Bloglines, a Web-based service that aggregates, searches, publishes, and searches blogs and RSS feeds. I talked with Jim Lanzone, Sr. VP of Search Properties at Ask Jeeves, and Mark Fletcher, CEO of Bloglines, about the acquisition.
Mark said that Bloglines had been courted by several VCs and companies about being acquired, but wasn’t swayed by any of them until they started talking to Ask Jeeves. It was apparent from Jim’s tone that he personally is a huge fan and user of Bloglines. It helps for management to be in love with an acquisition target’s service!
During the interview, Jim said one thing that struck me. “It [Bloglines] is a doorway, not a destination, and in this way, is very similar to search.” Similar to it’s acquisitions last year of portals like iWon and Excite, Ask Jeeves is quickly assembling a portfolio of Web properties that in aggregate would account a significant share of online users (in some ways, it feels like Barry Diller’s IAC companies).
I think this acquisition is a win-win for both companies, because:
1) Ask gets one of the top RSS aggregators in the market – a coup for a company that is often characterized as an also-ran. That’s a lot of quality users and traffic with which Ask Jeeves can build a business (as in “monetize”, which some folks in the blogosphere think is a dirty word – more on that below). Bloglines employees and users may be discouraged that they are being bought by Ask, but my experience is that the company is highly innovative – they have been right in the middle of the fray with desktop search and personalized search. A new marketing blitz later year should help with the repositioning and owning Bloglines will help burnish Ask Jeeves image.
2) Ask also gets access to a large database of archived blogs and feeds, which will help its overall search efforts. Other search engines like Technorati and Feedster are better known, but in the hands of Ask Jeeves, blog search could actually become a strategic tool for the new entity, rather than just be a way to find feeds (which is the main way it appears to be used on Bloglines today). Mark Fletcher said that “world class blog search doesn’t exist yet”, which sounds like a direct challenge to not only these specialized players but also to Google, Yahoo!, and MSN. The Bloglines team will be moved to Ask’s Los Gatos facilities, which also houses their MyJeeves and Desktop Search teams – which will be essential as the two services begin their integration. Most intriguing possibility – leveraging Blogline’s Share features to turbo charge search personalization.
3) Ask Jeeves also gets blogging software, which on the surface doesn’t sound that important, but could be an interesting source for content in the future – especially if all of those feed readers decide to start publishing themselves. So Ask Jeeves joins some of the other search engines that also offer blog publishing -- Google has Blogger, MSN has MSN Spaces, and AOL has AOL Journal. Yahoo! has no blogging solution right now…but it makes sense for them to buy Six Apart – not only for the base of existing bloggers but also for the technology which Yahoo! can wrap into its small business offerings.
4) Bloglines gets freedom, funding, and resources. Bloglines clearly has a game plan which Mark Fletcher plans to execute, and it appears Ask Jeeves is content to learn and watch from the sidelines for the time being. Smart move, as any attempts to put monetize the Bloglines interface will meet with resistance from feed publishers as well as users. Remember ten years ago when banner ads first appeared on Web sites – it got a lot uglier before it got better. No doubt, we’re going through those growing pains today when it comes to blog and feed ads. It’s a good thing that Ask Jeeves has the balance sheet to allow the space to develop. The big question – Google supplies the text ads that appear on Ask Jeeves’ search results, but as Ask Jeeves presumably grows, it may make sense for it to develop its own network – potentially by acquiring Kanoodle.