If there’s one thing we’ve learned about our Hackathons, it’s that each one yields different results—and this, our third one, is no exception.
Our first ‘thon gave us Pollroll, which is, well, rolling along nicely. Our second one gave us one concept that we’re bringing to Twitter, and another that’s already improved our improved our database-query times by 50X.
This time, organizers Nick McCann and Alisa Barnes raised the stakes yet again. For our Summer 2012 Hackathon, our eighty participants not only hacked products, they also explored ways to improve their presentation skills.
To help teams focus their ideas, this ‘thon had a theme: social media. After all, our users and partners continue to use social media tools. As a business, we’re continually looking for ways to incorporate social media in the work we do. Hence, the desire to come up with ideas that build on our existing offerings.
“I’m really excited to see what we get out of this (Hackathon),” Alisa told me. “I’m expecting it to impact our product roadmap significantly.”
The Art of the Pitch
Not everyone is comfortable with presenting in front of a group, so Eve Chaurand-Fraser, our VP of Business Development and General Counsel, offered our hacker teams “pitch workshops” to hone their skills. “We didn’t want great ideas to slip through the cracks based on the presentation alone — not everyone does this sort of thing for their job,” Eve explained. “I wanted to level the playing field.”
Hacking for the Prize
Thursday’s hacking went on behind closed doors and on the occasional cubicle island. Friday began with presentations from all ten teams. With lunch came the judging, and by 1:30 PM, we had our winner: Team OMGCLICK with an idea that involved a content indexing system and an in-house tool that would let Ask Editors assemble hilarious and/or fascinating content into easily shareable (dare we hope “viral?”) galleries and collections. The victors received iPods and Jamboxes — and trophies, of course. But everyone received experience — in pitching, in product creation and in thinking about social media. Believe us; you’ll see more of that from us in the future.
Ask.com joined forces with Code for Oakland this past weekend to build the best ideas for apps to help support economic development in Oakland, improve civic engagement, and provide tools to attract and sustain local businesses. 12 teams hacked away and came up with a variety of ideas addressing the needs of Oakland’s diverse community. Would an app to test low income kids for kindergarten readiness make the cut? How about an app designed to help disabled members of the community look for jobs??
But alas, only one team could be crowned the winner and Hack the Budget: Oakland was the victor!
Hack the Budget: Oakland aims to turn Oakland’s budgeting documents into something citizens can easily read, understand and most important, act on in the polls! The team earned a $1,000 cash prize along with an amazing support package to help the team complete the app, develop a business plan, marketing strategy and to help prepare the product for a full launch!
The team will be working to finalize the application over the next few weeks. Congratulations to all the participants and the Hack the Budget: Oakland team!
The American Customer Satisfaction Index released its scores this week for Internet Portals & Search Engines and we have to say, we were pleasantly surprised! Based on YOUR responses, Ask.com was the only company that maintained an impressive score of 80 (out of 100) while all others’ scores either declined since last year or were rated lower overall. We’re very proud of our standings and thank our loyal users for your continued support! After all, we wouldn’t be Ask.com with you!
Look. We get that when you think Oakland, you may not instantly think tech. We’re working with Code for Oakland to change that.
Ask.com has made this city home for over a decade, which is why we’re happy to be a presenting sponsor of Code for Oakland. It’s a one-day event where coders, programmers, and members of the community get together to create apps and tools that will improve life here in our town.
In addition to our sponsorship, Askers have volunteered their time for the July 21 event. Folks who join us at Code for Oakland are in for a full day of presentations, workshops, and learning sessions. And of course, there’s the hackathon where teams can take a crack at building a prototype application within the one-day time frame. $5000 in prizes are at stake for the teams who can build something that benefits our beloved Oaktown.
Also supporting the event: neighbors Pandora, Socrata, Code for America, and 2.Oakland, among others—all ready to prove that Oakland is a town for tech. Come down to the Kaiser Center Saturday and watch us teach the Valley a thing or two.
At Ask, we do more than answer questions. We also keep promises.
Case in point: the third and final problem Seattleites told us they wanted addressed: Keep the wading pools open more often. We responded by sponsoring three of the city’s most popular pools: East Queen Anne, Powell Barnett and Wallingford.
To celebrate, we threw a pool party!
Of course, by “party,” we mean a full-on celebration at Wallingford, with free ice cream, umbrellas, and a bouncy house! Kids splashed, kids bounced, and waders of all ages enjoyed free ice cream bars from Langley’s own Whidbey Island Ice Cream Company.
Locals may have heard about the surprise event via Wallyhood or the Puget Sound Business Journal, but however they chanced across it, a great time was had by all. And since we set out on this campaign to bring more enjoyment to Seattllites’ everyday activities, we feel pretty good about the results. We suspect Seattle does, too.
Fun fact: Ask.com is a top 10 most-visited site on the Internet. And like any top-ten site, we have some interesting insight into user behavior.
With the help of Ask Mobile Guru Jason Rupp and our pals at Comscore (and gleaned from objective surveys sourced from various syndicated tools), we’ve found a few jewels among the numbers that we want to share.
Smart Phones Are Gaining; Android Rules.
46% of all mobile phones are “smart phones:” Android phones, iPhones, Blackberrys, and Windows phones. That number continues to increase, as more of the cheap phones are given the ability to access connected media (photos, Web, video, music) every year.
Of that 46%:
51% are Android phones
31% are iPhones
12% are Blackberry phones
4% are Windows phones
Ask Mobile Users: Smarter, Female-er.
Our stats also tell us that Ask.com mobile users are more tech-savvy, with a much higher percentage owning smartphones: 78%, compared to the general public’s 46%.
In addition, Ask.com users are 69% more likely to use connected media than the total mobile audience. 32% of Ask.com users are also more likely to play mobile games. Plus, Ask.com users are predominantly female: 52%, in fact.
Our audience: Tech-savvier, better-equipped, and possibly better-smelling than the public-at-large! Hey, we’re just stating the facts.
Today we announced that Ask.com acquired an early stage, up-and-coming content discovery platform: nRelate. You can read Mediapost’s take on the news here.
We’ve made no secret that 2012 was going to be a big year for Ask to lay the groundwork for future growth. Over the last year and a half, we’ve doubled down on Q&A, which has yielded significant growth in traffic and profits as well as on mobile platforms, with more than 2 million downloads of our apps.
That’s not to say our vision for Q&A is fully realized yet – it’s evolving based on feedback from our users. And they’re telling us they are happiest with an Ask.com Q&A experience that lets them ask questions, browse multiple answers and discover relevant information that fuels new questions. As such, we want to invest in more answers, in different formats, from more sources – users, experts, media organizations, and of course published, searchable data on the web.
Our increasing focus on answers (content) is not unique. Thanks to the ease of self-publishing, individual consumers, major media companies - even marketers - are producing content at a staggering rate, making content discovery companies like nRelate all the more relevant.
So why nRelate and what are Ask’s plans? First, nRelate founders Neil Mody and Oliver Wellington have built a pretty incredible company with solid technology and phenomenal organic growth across 35,000 publishers with a very small team. Second, they are two of the most personable, stand-up guys I’ve met in the business (their take on today’s announcement here).
Outside of that, here are the reasons why this investment makes a lot of sense for Ask:
—- We know a thing or two about content discovery. We’ve been in the business of connecting consumers with information for 16 years and have developed technology to help our users find what they’re looking for faster. We see a huge opportunity to apply these assets and experience to content discovery products for other websites and think the combination of nRelate’s product suite and our technology can be disruptive for publishers looking to juice consumer engagement and improve monetization.
—- We know a few things about distribution too. A top 10 U.S. Internet site, Ask attracts 65 million visitors a month. We already work with partners to access content feeds for answers across areas like health, sports, food, games and travel. Now, more publishers (and brands) will have the opportunity to scale content distribution in the form of relevant answers on a leading Q&A platform, which connects our users to great content as well.
There’s still a lot of work ahead as we dig into our collective technologies and roadmaps and ramp up hiring, but I’m very excited to be a part of this growing market, and apply what I know is formidable technology to creating new and unique value for publishers and content owners.
A big THANK YOU to the Ask and nRelate teams for all the hard work pulling this over the finish line!