Despite the name, Ask.com has always been about answers: finding them, rating them, learning more through them. With a new polling platform rolling out tomorrow, however, the site will start asking users their opinions.
If that doesn’t sound very exciting, that’s because … it’s not. Apparently, the innovation well is running a little dry at Ask.
“At SXSW last year, we experimented with polls,” Ask’s director of product management Frank Loeffler told me yesterday. “We built an app called PollRoll … and saw a fantastic level of engagement.”
Users could ask any question, serious or entertaining, add some answers, and send it to any number of other users. People ended up creating over 90 polls, Loeffler told me, and that gave Ask some new thoughts about an old idea.
“This is actually an underserved market,” Loeffler said. “People think polls have been around forever and they’re no big deal. But we think it’s perfect for our brand and our customers.”
So Ask created a polling platform that allows the company to make polls and place them anywhere on the site. At first they’ll be editorially curated, but over time, anyone will be able to create and publish a poll. Ask’s goal is to help users explore more about topics, ultimately learning more than if they just find a simple answer.
There’s a risk to that, of course, given the nature of web users. One question I checked about best smartphone models, for instance, featured the “samsaung ipenis 3000000000″ as an answer. When I re-checked hours later, it had been deleted.
But the bigger risk is that the site that basically started the question-and-answer genre that Quora and others have since virtually taken over has devolved into a pageview-generation engine with cheap and easy “engagement” strategies, irrelevant ads, and no significant innovation in fostering either the development of great answers or the type of community that will create them.
This, for example, was the only answer I saw to a question about the impact of Pearl Harbor:
That is not going to win you an A on your school paper. And it can’t possibly compete with the average level of the worst answers on Quora.
And adding polls to a foundering Ask might put a few more dollars in owner InterActive Corp’s wallet temporarily — it needs them, after spending almost $2 billion on the site last decade — but it’s not going to transform a nag into a stud.