Tell Us What You Want. We’ll Take Care of the Rest.
You might have seen in our earlier post that we’re granting you a wish. Today, it’s happening: we kicked off our “You Asked, We Answered” campaign, designed to make the irksome things in your life (well, one of them at least) a little easier.
Today Seattleites will see Ask sprinkled around the city. We’re hitting the streets to talk with people in person, hang banners over heavily trafficked areas, and more—all to find out what people really want so that we can make it happen. Ask will grant the thing that gets the most votes.
Ease the morning commute. We heard that the Seattle morning commute can be pretty rough. Vote for this, and Ask will partner with Caffé Vita to brighten up the post-Memorial day commute with free coffee at multiple Park & Ride locations.
Minimize stadium traffic. We also heard that Mariners games can be one of the toughest spots to get home from so, if this is the number one request, Ask will provide transportation home after a game at Safeco field. That way traffic will be our problem, not yours.
Save the wading pools. Ask will chip in funds to keep community wading pools open, many of which are in danger of closing without some extra help.
How To Vote:
We’re giving you options how to get in on this:
1) Go to www.seattleasks.com to make your voice heard (be sure to share your vote with your friends)
Bay Area tech industry folks who’ve survived the last bubble or two will be familiar with District, an SF wine bar/restaurant and key lunch/happy hour/event spot. Multiple company ideas have no doubt hatched at their SoMa location. Lucky for us, They’ve opened up their second spot near us here in Old Oakland. We attended the soft-opening celebration, tipped a few among the exposed brick, and availed ourselves of many passed apps as Steve McQueen’s “Bullitt" played on the big-screen TV.
We also chatted with District co-owner Jon D’Angelica, who told us that the downtown location takes advantage of the area’s business centers, including its growing tech presence. “It just so happens we’re surrounded by (tech companies): Ask.com…Pandora…Oakland is a social hub.”
The new element to Oakland’s District? A whiskey list, curated the same way they do their wines. We know a few of our Product Managers who look forward to that.
If you’re a Seattleite, you’re in luck. Ask.com is coming to the Emerald City to grant you a wish.
We’ve asked around and discovered three problems that many of you would like addressed (based on our research). Your vote will determine which one you want solved the most.
Come visit SeattleAsks.com (or check your Pollroll app) starting May 1 to vote. On May 15 we’ll tally your votes and get to solving.
Seattle is just the first city on our quest to (1) find out what irks city residents most, and (2) make it better. After all, problems are solved by answering questions—and that’s what Ask.com does best.
Let’s be honest. You’re expecting the moral of this series of Ask Hackathon posts (see 1 and 2) to be, “Everybody won!” Not going to happen. Sorry. We’re proud, but we’re not cheesy.
We had actual winners, who won bona fide trophies and prizes for services that you’ll see launched later this year.
That said, everyone at the Hackathon had a good time, learned new stuff, and came up with strong concepts. It’s amazing what smart people can do when email and meetings are taken off the table for even one day.
Welcome to the Science Fair
As you’ll recall, this Hackathon had a theme: services, both internal and external. VP of Project Management and Hackathon co-leader Alisa Barnes explains it thusly: “We want to be able to serve up answers anywhere by creating things that people are going to be able to use in more places—(for instance) that a third party could use or syndicate in some way.”
After the first day of brainstorming, concepting, and building came day two: presentations. Affectionately called “the science fair,” each team presents their concept, via demo and/or PowerPoint presentation, to a roving panel of judges: Alisa, VP of Engineering Nick McCann, EVP of Business Operations Shane McGilloway, Chief Product & Technology Officer Lisa Kavanaugh, and CEO Doug Leeds.
One project leveraged Twitter, YouTube, open APIs, and widgets of various stripes. Another focused on user-specific page optimization to lower email bounce rates. Still another incorporated a real-time element to questions and answers that included live video. Our judges reviewed, listened, asked questions, and ultimately chose six finalists.
These finalists presented to the entire company, and were evaluated not just by the judges, but the company at large , plus a guest judge, Josh Meyer, CEO of People Media, who watched the presos via videoconference.
It All Comes Down To This
Once the judges returned from their chambers (AKA Doug’s office), the winners were…a hashtag-aggregation service which won the Judges’ AND Audience awards, and the aforementioned video-driven Q & A service, which won the Peoples Choice award.
After the ceremonies, the victors headed back to their desks with trophies and new iPads and Apple TV devices. The judges made plans to regroup to see how many of these ideas could become integrated within the product roadmap. And everyone got a taste of where this company is headed. If we can get there, THEN everybody wins.
Have any ideas for great new services? Share them in the comments below.
Just kidding. Please don’t do that. BUT, if you have any comments about this three-part series of Hackathon posts, we’d love to hear them. Especially the nice ones.
PS: if you want to work at a place that holds regular Hackathons, check out our job listings. We’re hiring!
For those of you not familiar with the standard company hackathon, it’s a department-wide event where engineers create new(ish) products and services in a short amount of time without having to sweat the standard company process (QA, L&P, general production readiness).
Ask.com cranks that up a notch. Here, we hack the whole company.
Busting Routines, Building Teams
At any company, It’s all too easy to get caught up in roles and deadlines and forget to step back and think more creatively. That’s why our Hackathons start by encouraging teams to cross-pollinate. For 24 hours, UX designers and product managers pair with operations personnel, engineers, support staff, marketers, etc.—taking everyone out of their comfort zones and, hopefully, exploding any bad habits.
“Our Hackathons have many tangible benefits—only one of which is actually launching a product.” Ask CEO Doug Leeds offered. “Sometimes it’ll be the people who worked together, saying, ‘You know, the thing that we worked on (for Hackathon) didn’t necessarily apply to current roadmap—but I like working with you. Let’s continue to team on interesting things.’”
Cracking Code, Going Agile
When your goal is day-to-day maintenance and reliability, there’s often a tendency to rely on legacy systems and code. One of VP of Engineering Nick McCann’s favorite elements of the event is setting his engineers free to work with new and different technologies: Node.js, NoSQL variants…the list goes on.
“We normally code apps in C/C++ or Java.” Nick explained. “But let’s say that (a Hackathon team) decides to create theirs in Node.js (a newer language). It gives them a full day to experiment and work with this language—making our engineers better rounded.”
Case in point: when we implemented Pollroll—our first Hackathon contender to be launched as an app—we did it in Node.js and used Redis as the data store.
The success of our multi-disciplinary Hackathon teams also helps us speed the current transition of our product development process from the classic “waterfall approach” to a modified single-team/agile/scrum structure (If you’re not familiar with the terminology, just know that it’s a good thing). ;-)
Creating a New Culture
But the most Ask-specific goal of our two-day company-hack is our plan to forge a company culture of creativity Ask. We began it in earnest months ago with our “Funnovation” applied improv sessions, to encourage and farm innovation. The Hackathon—a full day of intensive email- and meeting-free collaboration—is proving a natural extension as we make the time to execute the best ideas.
Sure, we want to create the next great service (more on that—and our winners—in Wednesday’s post)…but our Hackathons go beyond that. They’re a pilot program for what we want Ask to be: unified, nimble, supportive, and above all, innovative.
Here’s a few more photos from the event itself. Tune in Wednesday when we cover the presos, the judging, and the victors.
How does your company drive change—and how do you *wish* yours would? Let us know in the comments below.
For an entire day last week, you could walk the halls of Ask and hear next-to-no activity—that is, until you passed the conference rooms. There, teams of six typed frantically on laptops, sketched formulas on whiteboards, talked logistics. Translated: the Ask Hackathon was in full swing.
Ask’s quarterly Hackathons are two-day events: one day to concept and one half-day to present. The goal: come up with an idea and present to a panel of judges. Our team of judges gauge ideas based on potential business impact, creativity (both in concept and in use of existing technologies), and quality of pitch.
The winning ideas receive development resources and bragging rights. The losing ones still give our people the chance to leverage the latest technologies, try non-traditional processes, and spread their wings creating something new.
When We Say “All-Hands”…
Perhaps more important, our Hackathons aren’t just for our engineers or product teams. We open the event up to the entire company. Members from our design, operations, and marketing teams get involved. Even our finance and legal departments pitch in to devise, package and execute ideas to create the next great company innovation.
Last quarter’s hackers were encouraged to come up with virtually any idea that would benefit the company—and they responded with two dozen presentable concepts. One of these evolved into Pollroll, the mobile app that Ask launched at this year’s SXSW conference to great acclaim. This time around, Hackathon heads Nick McCann and Alisa Barnes focused this quarter’s teams to create a new service (or use an existing or third-party service in a new way). Aside from that, the only rules were (1) be in the office, and (2) be creative.
Teams Working: Do Not Disturb
If you knew where to look, the company was buzzing. Phrases like “social signals,” “aggregated for you,” “iPad app,” and “pulling links from I.M.” bounced through the halls. As did, for some reason, Marketing Director Robbie Waeschenfelder’s spot-on George Takei impersonation.
Mid-way through Day One, in a common area near the marketing department, six Askers leaned forward from white leatherette couches and devised ways to get celebrity gossip more conveniently. In another room, the team from the Campbell office bounced between their laptop screens and their whiteboards. Another team pitched out names for their new service, but had trouble finding an acronym that didn’t sound like “murder” (spoiler alert: they found one)
Come by the blog on Monday for a more in-depth look at the teams and how they collaborate—plus, find out why our Hackathons are a pilot program for how we’ll approach our products and services in the future.
Then come by on Wednesday to find out what some of our top brass has to say about the Ask Hackathon, and take an in-depth look at the judging…and the winners!
In the meantime, enjoy these snapshots of day one. Have any hackathon memories from your own companies you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments section below.
As folks are packing their umbrellas for what looks to be a rainy weekend in Austin, we wanted to tell you about a visual polling app live in the Apple iTunes store today that should prove useful – if not super entertaining —at SXSW. No, it’s not expressly for SX, and will be integrated into the overall Ask Q&A experience after the conference, but we thought the cacophony of events, panels, brands and crowds at SX would provide a great opportunity to test it out.
So, what is “it?” Drumroll…
Pollroll is a new app brought to you by Ask that will deliver people quick answers to any question, while they’re on the go. It’s a lightweight app designed to facilitate the creation, distribution and sharing of poll questions and results. Field a poll, take a poll, or share a poll. And because Pollroll lets users include comments along with their vote, it combines the instant gratification of a poll with the answer depth and social context of Q&A.
Why Pollroll? We saw our users leveraging the Ask Q&A community as a polling mechanism and thought, why not make it easier to set up a quick poll, survey others about anything— from favored restaurants to the best apps—and then share those results? SXSW is a great testing ground for Ask to play with this polling functionality, leveraging things like social connections and location, and we plan to use these learnings to better integrate polling into our flagship mobile app and site.
Some of the features include:
- Visual polling: Create a poll around a picture you just snapped, or use the in-app image search to include with your poll
- Filter responses: View responses from anyone, or filter by your friends or those in a specific location
- Get context: See comments to understand why respondents voted the way they did
- Browse: Find, take and share more than 1,000 polls and counting. You can also browse user polls based on recency, popularity, location or social connections.
TechCrunch posted an interesting article yesterday explaining a survey conducted by InMobi of 20,000 consumers. The findings show that people spent more time on the mobile web then watching TV. Essentially, people are “watching” their phones more than they are watching their television. People use their mobile devices all throughout the day, including 67% of the time lying in bed and 47% of the time waiting for something. Do these findings relate to how you use your mobile device?
As everyone gets ready to tune-in to the 84th Annual Academy Awards this weekend, we decided to roll out our very own red carpet predictions for the night’s winners and losers based on top questions asked on Ask.com by more than 100 million users. To help celebrate the Oscar predictions and nominees we sent some star-studded cookies to a few friends as a teaser.
Regardless of which stars win or lose, the Oscars are always a night full of surprises. So whether you are hosting an Oscar party or relaxing with a bag of popcorn, get ready for a night filled with the glitz and glamour only Hollywood can bring.
Sunday night the biggest musical artists from all over the world came together at the Grammy Awards to celebrate the best in music, but also mourned the passing of one of music’s most legendary voices, Whitney Houston, who passed away on the eve of the Grammys at the Beverly Hilton.
Congratulations to Adele and all the winners at the 2012 Grammy Awards!
And Whitney Houston, your awe-inspiring voice will be missed and remembered forever. Rest in peace.
Need Valentine's Day Ideas? Ask Users Give Their Advice!
Valentine’s Day is only a week away and Ask users are providing answers to all sorts of Valentine’s Day related questions. Do you know what you will give your Valentine? Or how you will spend that special day? Every Day all of these answers and more are being answered by Ask users leading up to the big day. Here is a quick look at some of our top Valentine’s Day questions and answers from real people in our Ask community.
What should I get my girlfriend for Valentine’s Day?
Ask users suggest flowers (specifically roses and orchids), candy, a watch, any kind of personalized gift, jewelry or a romantic letter. Ask users also recommend sending the flowers to her school or work for an even bigger impact.
What should I get my boyfriend for Valentine’s Day?
Users recommend buying his favorite cologne, a mug engraved, clothes, a watch or video games. Ask users also recommended baking fresh cookies.
How should my significant other and I spend Valentine’s Day?
Community members agree that going to dinner at a nice restaurant is a great way to spend Valentine’s Day. However, if you are on a budget, Ask users think a home-cooked meal is a romantic and thoughtful idea. Other ideas mentioned were seeing a movie and going for a picnic.
What is a Valentine’s Day gift that I can give my best friend?
Top answers from Ask users were a nice perfume or a charm bracelet.
Should men receive gifts on Valentine’s Day?
83% of Ask users say yes, Valentine’s Day is a day for both men and women to feel loved.
What do you do if someone that you don’t like gives you a present on Valentine’s Day?
100% of community members agree that saying “thank you” is the best way to handle that tough situation.
Do you have Valentine’s Day advice you want to share? Let us know!
In tradition of Groundhog Day, Punxsutawney Phil the Groundhog emerged from his burrow around 7:30am ET and saw his shadow, which which means we will have six more weeks of winter.
Punxsutawney Phil is not the first Groundhog to predict the beginning of the Spring season, this tradition started among Pennsylvania German communities in the 18th and 19th centuries. Although the tradition may seem silly to some, thousands of people gathered in Pennsylvania to see what Phil’s prediction would be this year. If you missed the main event, check out the live stream here.
So who do you think will win this year’s top Oscar honors? Will the showdown between good friends George Clooney and Brad Pitt end in one taking home the coveted statue, or will newcomer to the Oscar scene Jean Dujardin best them both for his turn as a silent film actor in The Artist? Will Meryl Streep win her third Oscar for portraying Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, or will Michelle Williams triumph for becoming Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn? Here at Ask.com, we’ll be watching the show on Sunday February 26, and updating our answers live to make sure we have the most up-to-date info possible! And in the meantime, there are so many movies to watch!
So, I was going to write a post yesterday on New Years Eve, reflecting on the year behind us, on the Firsts, the Lasts and the Never-agains…
But then I thought, we’re all inclined to look back anyway, and I’m sure you all did enough of that over the holidays. I’d rather look forward. Because this year is going to be exciting. I’ve got a feeling that we’re on the verge of something great - it’s always after a slump that people soar to new heights.
We’ve finally made it truly into a new decade, leaving a lot of old global baggage behind. It’s a work in progress, but the page has been turned. I feel it about the world as a whole when I watch the news, and I feel it when I talk to people every day about our work at Ask.
The oracle of popular culture herself hit the nail on the head:
"Cheers to the New Year and another chance to get it right." - Oprah Winfrey.
Couldn’t have said it better. This is it, friends: Another chance to get it right. I don’t need a list of resolutions, my only goal is working harder to get it right.
Here’s to a great year ahead. Thank you for being with us and let me know what you think we can do to get it right in 2012.
Even though the year is quickly coming to an end, we still have some fun popular questions of 2011 that want to share with you. At the beginning of the month, we released the top questions asked on Ask.com along with the top predictions of 2012 - but there were quite a few celebrity questions that were a little too juicy to share with the media! Here is a glimpse at what people were really asking us…
The eight candles on the menorah represent the miracle of the oil, in which one days worth of oil lasted for eight. A ninth candle is placed in the center of the menorah, and is known as the shamash and is used to light the other candles.
Mobile May Be the Future, but TV Is Still Going Strong
Sometimes it seems like the only thing anyone talks about anymore is mobile. And that’s for good reason – the marketing intelligence firm eMarketer recently published a remarkable statistic – people are now spending more time consuming information on their phones than from printed media like newspapers and magazines. Mobile and print were neck in neck in 2010, but mobile jumped dramatically in 2011. This isn’t a surprise at Ask.com, where we’ve seen over 1 million downloads of our iPhone app since it launched in late 2010. Our recently-released Android app is on a similar trajectory, growing users at a rate of about 45% each month.
Despite the buzz about mobile, eMarketer’s report suggests that TV is still going strong. Adults in the US are actually watching 10 minutes more TV per day this year than they were in 2010. This is also great news for us, since we’re stepping up our TV advertising in several cities in 2012. If you live in San Francisco, Atlanta, Seattle, Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia or Washington, DC you may notice commercials for Ask.com during one of your favorite shows starting in January. Let us know if you see them!
Click here to read more about the eMarketer study.
Ann Semeraro, Director, Consumer and Market Insight
Getting answers to your questions is our top priority at Ask.com. Whether you’re searching for answers or asking the community, we want your experience to be a great one! We revamped the top categories in the community to better suit the topics you ask about most, like Cars & Transportation, Food & Drink, Sports & Recreation, Technology and more.
Featured in a WebProNews article today popular questions are now at the top of the page with recently asked questions displayed below. You’ll find that these category pages will be a place you’ll come back to often because you’ll always see the hottest topics first – we’re placing the most popular community Q&A front and center.
We are constantly monitoring the community and listening to our users and we know that categorizing questions has been something community members were looking for. So, we have strayed away from the auto-assigned categories and will now allow you to choose the most appropriate category for your questions. This change combined with the new category pages will help you find the types of questions you want to answer, which should increase the number of answers to questions – especially yours – in the community.
We hope that you find these changes to be as helpful and exciting as we do. We’d love to hear your feedback, so please let us know what you think by commenting here on the blog or through our Feedback link.
Haven't Finished Your Holiday Shopping? We're Here To Help!
Eager to skip the crowds, queues, and hours logged in the car this holiday season? Well today, we’re launching a completely redesigned our shopping channel to make it easier than ever to do your holiday shopping.
Everything from UGG Boots to iPads to Fender guitars are available so you can find the best price and check that gift off your list with just a few clicks of your mouse.
Features of the new Ask.com shopping channel include:
You’ll be able to stay within your budget using the price-filtering tool:
Shop the brands you love, and leave the ones you don’t for someone else:
Have a question about product features or prices? We’ve also added some popular questions and answers from other users so you can see what other people are asking about the products you are shopping for. This can definitely come in handy if you have some questions the Fender guitar you are eyeing.
So, skip the stress this year and use our new shopping channel to make your holiday shopping headache and hassle free. Happy buying!
The dust may have settled on your Turkey leftovers, but we’re keeping the spirit going with a feast for your eyes and a peek into our recipe for a creative part of Ask.com. Today we’re dishing out a “making of” blog post about our holiday themes. Few destinations on the Web do it the way we do it.
Many sites recognize special days each season, but we’ve never really settled for a “doodle” to do the job. If you’ve visited us on holidays, you’d know that Ask.com does it big: a custom-crafted image decks the homepage. As the artist behind the scenes, imagine a digital age version of the iconic painter Bob Ross… equipped with Photoshop skills poised to paint “happy little trees”… or turkeys, as the case may be. It’s been a fun facet of my role on the UX team since the start of this art direction’s style in 2008.
I’ve thought about rolling out the visual décor for any major Holiday probably more so than your local Walgreens does. Internally, they’re known as “HPTO’s” (homepage takeovers), which begins with one designer choosing the right images to source and purchase from stock libraries like pieces to a puzzle that has yet to exist.
Concepts for themes are born at the crossroads of topical and visual relevance.
Two tenets apply across the board: 1. Support and enhance the “Question of the Day” feature in a monumental way. 2. Meeting the challenge of creating a visually delightful tribute for the occasion.
This time around, the Question of the Day asked the audience…
We get the ball rolling like this:
pre-planning of the concept with our Web Producer, Holly Boston
pre-production and sourcing for visuals (searching through hundreds)
in a couple rounds, create a completed scene by adding the “secret sauce” in Photoshop to weave a composition together
Creative formula applied to HPTO compositions:
Main hero object as the focal point of the theme
Out-of-focus foreground and background.
Vignette of several adjustment layers creating a style of outershadows
Optional: some background “characters” like these gobblers
Defining UI factors and technical aspects:
Remaining sensitive to and complementing the UI rather than interfering with it.
Users of a range of browser resolutions can “get” what the theme conveys no matter how they slice it. Users with higher resolutions can see the full panorama in a widescreen view.
Being well crafted for the time invested, allowing for a review cycle after the first draft has been created.
These benchmarks and image architectures are applied from Valentine’s Day to the winter holidays when production really ramps up.
To recap, here’s the “Live Turkey” which ran (as seen in a final snapshot on my laptop, after dinner, with myself firmly implanted on the sofa next to it) on Thanksgiving Day – Thursday November 24, 2011:
Creatively, we look for ways to be inventive even if the theme must suit the same occasions every year; there are many ways to visually interpret a holiday. As the Ask.com UI changed considerably to support new initiatives, the scale of HPTOs adapted while the creative secret sauce and technical recipes remained. Our next round of creative features will undoubtedly adapt with the Web, while also remaining a celebratory tradition as much as the holidays themselves at Ask.
If you’d like to follow my path as an artist on the UX team at Ask.com, and beyond, find me on Twitter @dianafurka
Believe it or not, 2011 is quickly coming to a close and 2012 is just around the corner. Which means it’s time for our annual look back on the rumors, gossip and news that captured Ask users’ attention this year. Since people come to Ask with a lot of questions, instead of just search terms, we compiled the top trending questions of the year. Ready?
In a surprise upset, curvaceous queen of the reality TV overshare, Kim Kardashian edged out Justin Bieber to take home the honors for the top trending question in 2011. Guess what they asked? Well, keep reading.
Or, are you more of a viewer than a reader? Then check out our cool little video
Of course Bieber Fever dominated all year, but Kim K. knocked J. Biebs out of the top spot with the her fairytale wedding, followed shortly by a dramatic and (unexpected?) split.
Another force of nature, Amy Winehouse, also made the top ten due to her untimely death. The news of Winehouse’s death was heard around the world — transcending the celebrity pages to become one of the biggest news items of the year.
Is it election year? Who can tell these days, but the Democrats vs. Republicans showdown is well underway and a number of notables kept popping up all year.
Millions of people come to Ask.com every day for all sorts of questions. Some are answered with a quick answer right at the top of the page, while others are more subjective in nature and need a more human touch. As mentioned in the post below, we have users that are so dedicated to answering all kinds of questions that they reach our Ask Hall of Fame list!
But why do so many Ask.com users take the time to answer other people’s questions? A great article in Xconomy asked that very question and decided to ask the users themselves.
And, guess what? Ask users responded with a ton of terrific answers! Check out the article to see what Ask.com users said was the reason why they provide great answers.
The Ask Hall of Fame is a celebration of dedicated members who contribute great content to the Ask community. Every month, we select 100 community users who provide great answers, contribute often, and are just good community members. It doesn’t matter if users are brand new or if they’ve been here since the inception of community…time doesn’t play a part in the Hall of Fame; greatness does. Furthermore, users can keep their name in the Hall of Fame month-over-month by continually contributing great content.
As a special thank you, we created t-shirts exclusively for Ask Hall of Famers. If being featured in the Hall of Fame wasn’t enough, then perhaps donning a special t-shirt will entice users to do their very best.
Check out the September and October Hall of Fame to see who’s in already.
Armistice Day, the precursor to Veterans Day, was held on November 11th, the anniversary of when the armistice with Germany was signed.
In 1918, the armistice treaty between the Allies and Germany in World War I was signed on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month and marked the end of the war on the Western Front.
President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed an Armistice Day for November 11, 1919. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the original concept of the holiday was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business starting at 11:00 AM.
Stephan Riod campaigned to turn Armistice Day into “All” Veterans Day. Eventually, a bill for the holiday was pushed through Congress and President Dwight Eisenhower signed it into law on May 26, 1954.
The good news: one more hour of sleep! The bad news: the days get dark earlier. The morning of Sunday November 6th marks the end of Daylight Savings Time! Unless you live where DST is not observed, this is the day when we have to remind ourselves to set our clocks back 1 hour. Countries around the world observe this time shift, and it always inspires many questions. Why do we do it? Does it really save us energy? Can it affect our well-being? When do we spring forward? Don’t forget to change your clocks, and enjoy your extra hour this weekend!
We have great news to share with you – Ask.com was a finalist in the Forrester Groundswell Awards! Although we didn’t take home the big prize we’re still pumped about our finalist spot in the business to consumer mobile application category. Check out Forrester’s blog post about it here.
Back in June, we launched a fun trivia game called Skip the Line at Six Flags theme parks to let people play for a chance to win a spot at the front of ride lines. Our Ask for iPhone app was updated to detect users in the Six Flags parks in 10 cities and launch a game where people could earn points for asking trivia questions correctly. The game was a fun, unique way to engage park goers who were killing time in line.
It was a simple concept and people loved it, and apparently so did Forrester’s judges. We had some really impressive usage numbers and are really proud of everyone here at Ask that made the campaign a great success.
Congratulations to fellow finalist Starbucks and to winner Redbox for their Relationships + Rentals campaign!
Experiments: When, How & Surprising Results: Web2Expo
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of presenting at the O’Reilly Web2Expo in NYC (thanks @brady!). My talk was entitled “How to Create a Location Aware Group Chat App in 6 weeks” and was based the experience of building Ask Around for SXSW 2011. I have to admit, the title was a bit misleading. While I certainly shared details about how we discovered the concept, organized the team, planned, built and launched – the real story was in the unexpected positive side effect this project had on the team and the company. It wasn’t my original intent to share that subplot. But, as the presentation took form and I relived the experience, I realized that this project impacted us as individuals and as a team in many more ways than I had imagined.Let me bring you up to speed first.
The Ask Around project as an unusual one for Ask.com for a few reasons. First, it was an experiment like none we’d conducted before. We had set SXSW as our debut event which meant we had 6 weeks to build & launch! Second, we were building an iPhone app which was something we were relatively new to, and third it was our first use of location on mobile. Here are the key ingredients to how we did it, some of which are extras I didn’t share at the conference. If you’re not into Cliff’s Notes - the full 20 min presentation can be viewed below.
- Know how much you’re willing to risk. We used a Freelance Developer found through tapping trusted networks as the dev lead and added members of our Mobile Scrum team as our confidence grew. This allowed us to rapidly prototype early with little (1 week slip) disruption to existing strategic roadmaps. We chose mobile to reduce risk to our entrenched user base and monetization model.
- Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done. Agencies told us it wasn’t possible. Their priorities and constraints are different from yours – be persistent and find a way.
- Scrum – The team was used to daily meetings, releasing often, removing obstacles and pivoting quickly. This was key to being able to build a full feature chat service in 3 weeks.
- Inspire yourself – Setting an extremely challenging goal and fighting to hit it was motivating. The team shared a defining experience that bonds them to this day. Make it inspiring!
- Constrain yourself – The time and budget constraint forced us to focus on what was really important, be creative, make decisions quickly and be scrappy. Try it – see what happens.
The REAL lesson wasn’t learned until we got to Austin. We took 11 people, including the Scrum team, to SXSW with us. Best decision we could have made. Without them the after effect wouldn’t have happened. The team spent 4 days on the ground, using the product, face to face with users in their natural (well, as natural as sxsw can be..) habitat. It was like fast forwarding through months of usability tests! We saw how users search for apps in the Itunes store, what they think about before they sign up with Facebook (photo & name are ok as long as you don’t post to my wall!), how few techies were running the latest iOS, and most of all – how EASY it is to talk to users and gain valuable insights just by sharing a beer (and maybe some cell phone power…).
The best part was that every one of us there was touched in the same way by the time spent with people using the product with us. Everyone had a different story when we got back, a different nugget they’d learned or gotcha they’d uncovered.
That’s the story I wanted to share at Web2Expo. Sure, the tips/tricks about how to build something new quickly are valuable. But what I was really hoping for was to inspire just one person in the audience, to dare to take on a challenging experiment, and then launch it, as a TEAM, discussing feedback from the users – listen, and learn, and observe what happens to the team. Because for us, the real win wasn’t in the # of people using Ask Around, but in the ah-ha moment, the mental shift that getting developers closer to the end user is the secret to success. We’ve come a long way at Ask.com since March. We now have a 300+ Ask.com User Panel that we tap for feedback on upcoming launches and issues we struggle with. We also use tools like UserTesting.com and watch the videos as a team and in company wide meetings. And as I shared this story with the folks at Web2Expo I was reminded of the importance and that we can do even more to open our minds to creative possibility, take more risks in experimentation and find news ways to connect with our users for the sake of building innovative products for them.
I’m tempted to share early breakthroughs from an Improv Skills Program we’ve started here at Ask…but I think I’ll leave that for a future blog post…Until then – throw in some constraints, conduct an experiment, introduce a developer to a user and see what happens! I’d love to hear what you discover!
Lisa Kavanaugh, Chief Product & Technology Officer
The custom of Trick-or-treating has origins in the medieval practice of ‘souling’, when the poor would go door to door on November 1st, called Hallowmas or All Hallows Eve, to ask for food and prayers for the dead on the following day, All Souls Day.
The more recent custom of giving candy or treats originated in the idea that homeowners would do this to prevent mischief and pranks that were common on this night, hence the traditional saying “trick or treat”.
From where I’m sitting, this has been quite a memorable week. Same for you? We at Ask have the finger on the nation’s pulse, since everything that happens tends to show up as questions on our site. It’s really kind of cool to look at the world through questions.
Well, first we started the week off with the latest gay celebrity to come out, Zachary Quinto. We’re proud of him, and updated our official answer to the popular question:
Yesterday, the Hayward Fault under Oakland, where Ask is headquartered, started shaking. Nobody was hurt, but we all asked ourselves: Can we predict earthquakes?
But the week (assuming the world isn’t actually ending today) otherwise finished on two high notes from the Middle East! Firstly, the 40 year dictatorship of Gadhafi finally comes to an inglorious end. But even more exciting, President Obama announced that he’s bringing our troops home from Iraq for the holidays.
And so here’s my personal favorite newly revised answer of the week:
Now that the Q&A Community is open to everyone, you can now share questions on Facebook and Twitter. Whether it’s a burning question that you think one of your friends or family can answer or it’s so darned interesting, you just have to share it. No matter the reason, you can now expand your community experience!
All you have to do is navigate to the question you want to share, click “Tweet” or “Like” and then click “confirm.” If you’re not already logged in to your Facebook or Twitter account, you’ll be prompted to do so.
In addition to sharing questions, you can also include YouTube videos in your answers. Simply add the YouTube URL to your answer and when you click “Answer this Question,” the video will be embedded as you see above.
If you have suggestions for features you’d like added to community, let us know! Comment here or visit our feedback forum.
Recent news headlines have made it clear that consumers aren’t shy when it comes to voicing their opinions about changes to a favorite brand’s product or service offering. Social media has made it easy for anyone with a smartphone or an internet connection to express their opinions and find an audience for their point of view. It’s more important now than ever for brands to ensure they’re incorporating consumer feedback. A continuous feedback loop helps companies anticipate the reactions of their user base and act accordingly.
At Ask, we use a variety of approaches to stay connected with our users and make product innovation a truly co-creative process. Each month, thousands of Ask.com users complete our site satisfaction survey, provide suggestions for improvement in our Q&A community and in our footer Feedback link, visit our Facebook and Twitter pages, and participate in usability testing. When more than 60 million people rely on your brand each month, there really is no such thing as too much feedback.
One of the newest feedback initiatives we’ve launched is the Ask.com User Advisory Panel. Over 300 Ask users from across our website, Q&A community, and mobile apps agreed to participate in a private, online research community to provide input on Ask.com initiatives over several months. User panels like ours are unique in that they allow a space for good ideas to both emerge and be refined over time. To date, our Advisory Panel has helped us optimize our site design, get ideas for brand advertising, and communicate our most important deliverable – great answers – in a way that’s universally understood.
Like all good research projects, our Advisory Panel has also brought forward some surprises. Specifically, how much our panelists appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback that can help Ask improve and that their respect for Ask has increased because we consider user input to be a critical aspect of our decision-making process. For our part, we’re thrilled that so many of our users are willing to have a meaningful conversation with us and we’re working hard to ensure that Ask stays on their favorite brands list!
Ann Semeraro, Director, Consumer and Market Insight
I wanted to share with you some exciting updates about our Ask.com Q&A Community. As you may know, Ask.com Q&A Community is now open to all Ask.com visitors; this means all visitors can receive answers from both the web and from real people. After opening the Ask.com live user community to everyone in September, the visitors of Ask.com have responded amazingly. The user registration from the Ask.com Site has doubled compared to the Beta phase; while the registrations from iOS App have been stable and steady.
Our users are not only joining the Community but are also very engaged as apparent by their many activities (asking questions, answering questions and commenting on questions). Not only do these new Site users browse various Ask.com Q&A pages, but they are also very engaged in content activities such as asking a question, providing answers, commenting on Answers, as well as voting. In fact, in addition to the existing users, about 75-80% of these new users contribute to various content activities on our Ask.com Q&A pages. The visits to Ask.com Q&A pages are also 2.5 times higher in September.
These are a few highlights of the full release of Ask.com Q&A Community which marks the start of a very exciting road for us. We will share more updates with you as the Q&A Community progresses over time.
Last night at sundown was the official beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah is observed on the first two days of Tishrei (the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar), and is celebrated in countries all around the world. Traditions for the Jewish New Year include attending synagogue and hearing the shofar, baking challah bread, and eating apples dipped in honey (in order to ensure a ‘sweet new year’). Here’s wishing a wonderful new year to all those celebrating today!
Today, Ask partner Nuance launched the new version of its Dragon Go! application, the app that recognizes what users say and delivers direct access to the best sites on the mobile web. This next version of Dragon Go! expands direct access to more answers, movies, music and more; layering voice recognition on top of rich content, expert answers and services from leading partners like Ask.com, Wolfram|Alpha, Spotify, Google+ and others.
Users have flocked to Dragon Go! since it launched earlier this year, and we are psyched to have been chosen as a key partner for this next rev. of the product. So, how will it work? By saying “how many calories are in a banana?” or “what is the best vineyard in St. Helena, CA?” users will be directed to an immediate answer from Ask.com - either through search, or answers from a live community made up of Ask’s 60 million users.
By pairing its voice recognition on top of expert content, rich media, and social services like Google+, Dragon Go! has effectively leapfrogged mobile search applications - giving users direct access to their answer or next activity in a matter of seconds.
Dragon Go! understand the questions, and Ask as the answers - seems like a perfect match to me! Check out the new Dragon Go! app here.
David Amato, Director of Business Development & Partnerships
Fall is upon us. The Autumnal Equinox is September 23rd in the northern hemisphere this year. It’s the day when night and day are nearly the same length and the Sun crosses over the Earth’s equator on its way south marking the beginning of fall.
The change of seasons makes us very curious indeed. Here are some of the most popular questions we get on the topic.
In autumn the production of chorophyll, the green pigment in leaves, slows to a halt. Carotenoids and anthocyanins, yellow, orange and dark red pigments, are exposed in the leaves, giving them their characteristic autumnal colors.
Ask.com was honored to be one of the local businesses representing innovation at Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s reception for the Women and Economy Summit at the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation Conference Friday night. Mayor Jean Quan and a committee of distinguished Oakland women leaders in exports, innovation, and education hosted more than 400 international delegates to the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation, as well as local representatives, at a City Hall reception on Friday, Sept. 16. The reception follows the three-day international APEC Summit for delegates of 21 Pacific Rim economies held in San Francisco.
Lisa Kavanaugh, Robbie Waeschenfelder and I managed a booth for Ask.com, handing out some awesome red baseball caps, touting Ask and networking with a few notables, including Pandora’s Jessica Steel, Executive Vice President of Business and Corporate Development. As we listened to Mayor Jean Quan, Governor Jerry Brown and others speak that night, we couldn’t help but feel very excited to be part of Oakland’s thriving community.
Players rack up points and compete to win prizes by correctly answering trivia questions related to the current and past Disrupt conferences, speakers at the show, and general industry trivia. They can earn points either at our live trivia booth in a head-to-head competition or on our website, AskDisruption.com. Winners of the live trivia rounds are able to even grab cash in our Ask.com Cash Booth. Q&A Disruption is our play-anywhere (from any device) Ask.com trivia game built for Disrupt SF 2011 attendees. Today’s contest came down to a final, last-minute live trivia showdown between our first and second place contestants to determine our winner, see below for pictures!
I also had a chance to check out some of the conference’s speakers today, including an excellent kickoff speech from former TechCrunch Co-Editor Michael Arrington, a Fireside Chat by Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, a Founder Story from Dustin Moskovitz from Facebook and Asana, and a Startup Battlefield Competition, where entrepreneurs pitched their business ideas to a group of potential investors in front of a live audience.
All in all, it was an action-packed first day and a promising start to the conference. There’s bound to be some exciting announcements throughout- stay tuned for more info and dont forget to play at AskDisruption.com for a chance to win cool prizes!
Summer is coming to a close, and it’s the time of year when yellow buses are making their rounds, and students are heading back to classes after the long summer break. People all over are getting themselves and their children ready for school, from shopping for school supplies and getting immunizations, to finding resources to help with homework and advice for getting involved in making the school experience as amazing as possible for their children.
Check out some of the most popular back to school questions users are asking below. We hope you and your children have an excellent start to the school year!
It’s difficult for anyone to be creatively inspired and productive when you’re sitting in a sea of cubicles all in the same monotone color scheme surrounded by white walls and brown office doors.
Sure, you can paint some of those walls to add some color, but who wouldn’t want to create their own environment that you and your cube mates could call “home”. Inspired by another program at LinkedIn, Ask.com kicked off “Pimp My Pod” last week, a program that allows each pod group to permanently transform their workspace into an environment that makes them feel comfortable and express who they are.
The groups were encouraged to bring in stuff from home, create items from scratch and of course we provided a small monetary gift to help them along. Each group then hosted an open house where they invited the rest of the company over for snacks, drinks, and a tour of their area. We had pods themed as a HAWAIIAN LUAU, NIGHTCLUB, JUNGLE, SERENITY LOUNGE and many more!
Each group’s collective efforts provided an opportunity for the team to work together on something creative that the rest of the company could enjoy as a pat on the back for all their hard work.
Got a question? Get an Answer from the Ask Community!
Let’s face it. Some questions aren’t meant to be answered by a machine. That’s why you’ll see some changes to Ask.com today that involve you, our valued community of experts on all sorts of topics. Ask opened up its community portion of the site, previously in limited beta, to everyone – yup, all 63 million of you – so you can get answers from real people to subjective questions.
In addition, you’ll also probably notice a new look and feel that reflects what we’ve learned about how search and social intersect to offer the best Q&A experience. The new design helps users find the best answer to their question – whether that answer comes from a traditional Web search or from the community.
Go to Ask.com or download our app on the iPhone and Android and ask a question! When you visit, you’ll see these new features:
- Flexibility and Choice – With a new tabbed interface on the homepage, users can choose which experience makes sense for their question: searching the Web for a published answer immediately, or tapping a community of users for personal answers and recommendations.
- Ask People – The ability to join Ask People and exchange questions and answers with others is now available to all Ask.com users. Answers with positive user feedback are indexed and will surface in response to relevant searches conducted in the Search the Web tab. Ask People also includes the ability to browse Q&A content by social connections or topic areas.
- Web Search tailored for Q&A – Ask.com’s Q&A focused algorithms go beyond page rank and link counts to actually match queries with real answers. A search on Ask.com benefits from a number of these technologies working in the background, including Ask-curated Smart Answers and a database of more than 700 million Q&A pairs, to produce a real answer at the top of the page instead of ten blue links.
- User Q&A Content Front and Center – A new, streamlined design showcases more user-generated Q&A throughout the homepage and overall site via “People Are Asking” and “Related Q&A” sections.
- Improved Sharing & Social Features – Users can now share questions and answers of interest across multiple social platforms.
The Wall Street Journal wrote on the news this morning, check it out here. Also, check out screenshots below.
SXSW 2012 may seem far away, but March 2012 will be here before you know it! The PanelPicker voting for SXSW 2012 is now open and we’d love for you to vote for our panel spotlighting an Insiders’ Guide to the Q&A space. This panel features some of the most influential leaders in the Q&A space. Joining me in the discussion are some of the leading minds in the Q&A space: Ro Cho of Formspring, Lenny Rachitsky of Localmind, Shawn Schewegman of Cha Cha and Dan Peters of Yahoo! Answers.
As we all know, there are plenty of places on the Web you can go to get an answer to a question, but it’s difficult to find an answer you can actually trust. We have been trained to turn everyday questions into search terms and in turn get low quality results due to content farms, keyword optimization, and a lack of understanding of what we’re really asking. With the recent rebirth of Q&A, there are now a multitude of models motivating users to ask questions and receive answers from real people as opposed to algorithms. However, getting that credible answer quickly still remains a challenge. In this panel, we will dive into the different flavors of Q&A sites available which models are working, highlight how to get the best answer you are looking for, and discuss why Q&A is different than search and how to unlock the potential of this exploding category.
Click here to vote and learn more about our panel. Voting ends September 2nd so vote now!
Hope to see you there!
Lisa Kavanaugh, Chief Product & Technology Officer