What happened to Ask Jeeves?

Ask Jeeves, now known as Ask.com, was a question-and-answer and search engine business that was founded in 1996 by David Warthen and Garrett Gruener.

Ask Jeeves was based on the eponymous character Jeeves, a butler named after a valet in a series of fictional books from author P. G. Wodehouse.

Visitors to the site would type in a question and be directed an answer from crawler-based results, paid Google listings, or content from the Ask Jeeves editorial team.

Some of the more difficult questions were sent directly to a site editor, with some paid and others volunteering their time and expertise.

All appeared well at the company after an IPO in 1999 worth $42 million and more than one million daily searches on the Ask Jeeves website.

Less than seven years later, however, the Ask Jeeves brand was formally retired, and the company made a belated but ultimately successful business model pivot.

Search engine wars and the dot-com bubble

Ask Jeeves existed at a time in the late 1990s and early 2000s, characterized by heavy competition in the search industry.

Google had formed in 1997, but there were also more established players such as AltaVista, Excite, Yahoo!, and Lycos. 

This period was characterized by numerous companies competing to secure market share in an exciting time of possibility on the internet.

Unfortunately, this period was also characterized by intense speculation in internet-based companies that ultimately could not be sustained.

When the dot-com bubble burst, Ask Jeeves posted a $425 million loss in 2001 and teetered on bankruptcy.

Site reconfiguration

Realizing something needed to change, Gruener decided to make Ask Jeeves more of a traditional search engine and less of a question-and-answer platform.

Jeeves himself was recast as something akin to a mascot rather than a provider of knowledge. 

Thanks to an ad revenue deal struck with Google; the company returned to profit in 2003.

However, it’s important to note that Google Adwords had already secured 32% of the market by this point. By comparison, Ask Jeeves held a paltry 3%.


InterActive Corp. (IAC) acquired Ask Jeeves for $1.85 billion in 2005.

At the head of IAC was Barry Diller, who purchased the platform believing he could take significant market share from Google, Yahoo, and MSN.

Thanks to lucrative advertising revenue, these three competitors accounted for 83% of all web searches and had access to deep talent pools and vast resources.

To better compete in the industry, Ask Jeeves made several acquisitions and invested heavily in advertising as the business model pivoted to one based on search engine traffic.

Ask Jeeves became Ask.com in 2006, and any trace of Jeeves, the butler, was removed.

Business model pivot

Ask Jeeves was initially popular because of its user experience.

Indeed, asking a butler to answer a question was a novelty at a time when the powerful search engines we take for granted today did not exist.

However, the platform ultimately failed because of the pivot from a question-and-answer platform to a search engine.

Ask Jeeves entered the industry at walking speed while players like Google were already sprinting. 

To some extent, Ask Jeeves was doomed either way.

As web users became accustomed to the streamlined interface and functionality of search engines, few were willing to endure the hassle of asking using Ask Jeeves when Google could deliver multiple answers in a fraction of a second.

Key takeaways:

  • Ask Jeeves, now known as Ask.com, is a question-and-answer and search engine business founded in 1996 by David Warthen and Garrett Gruener.
  • When the dot-com bubble burst, Ask Jeeves entered into an ad-revenue share agreement with Google. Over the following years, it progressively shifted from a question-and-answer platform to one more closely resembling a search engine.
  • Ask Jeeves was acquired by InterActive Corp. in 2005, with then-CEO Barry Diller instituting several acquisitions and a formal business model pivot to take market share from Google, Yahoo, and MSN. Ultimately, these companies had too much of a head start, and Ask Jeeves could not compete with their talent pool or resources.

Read More:

Other Failure Stories

What Happened to WeWork

WeWork is a commercial real estate company providing shared workspaces for tech start-ups and other enterprise services. It was founded by Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey in 2010. WeWork’s business model was built on complex arrangements between the company and its landlords. There were also several conflicts of interest between Neumann and WeWork, which provided the impetus for the failed IPO and significant devaluation that would follow.

What Happened to Netscape

Netscape – or Netscape Communications Corporation – was a computer services company best known for its web browser. The company was founded in 1994 by Marc Andreessen and James H. Clark as one of the internet’s first and most important start-ups. The Netscape Navigator web browser was released in 1995 and became the browser of choice for the users of the time. By November 1998, it had been acquired by AOL, which tried unsuccessfully to revive the popularity of the web browser. Ten years later, Netscape was shut down entirely.

What Happened to Musical.ly

Musically, or Musical.ly as it is officially known, was a Chinese social media platform headquartered in Shanghai. After passing 200 million users in May 2017, the platform was shut down by tech company ByteDance in November. After its acquisition, ByteDance suggested Musical.ly would continue to operate as a standalone platform. Company representatives noted that it would be able to leverage ByteDance’s AI technology and enormous reach in the Chinese market. Musically was ultimately absorbed into TikTok in June 2018, with the app no longer available in August of the same year. Existing users were offered technical support and several new features as a sweetener.

What Happened to Vine

Vine was an American video social networking platform with a focus on looping video clips of six seconds in length, founded by Dom Hofmann, Rus Yusupov, and Colin Kroll in 2012 to help people capture casual moments in their lives and share them with their friends. Vine went on to become a massively popular platform. Yet by 2016, Twitter discontinued the mobile app, allowing users to view or download content on the Vine website. It then announced a reconfigured app allowing creators to share content to a connected Twitter account only. This marked the end of Vine.

What Happened to CNN Plus

CNN Plus was a video streaming service and offshoot of CNN’s cable TV news network that was launched on March 29, 2022. The service was ultimately shut down just one month after it was launched. Trouble began for the platform when parent company WarnerMedia merged with Discovery. The latter was unimpressed with paltry viewer data and, with $55 billion in debt to clear, was not interested in funding CNN+ moving forward. Other contributing factors to CNN Plus’s demise include a lack of compelling content and streaming service market saturation.

What Happened to Clubhouse

Clubhouse is a social app that allows thousands of people to communicate with each other in audio chat rooms. At one point, the company was worth $4 billion and boasted users such as Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. Clubhouse declined because it rode the wave of pandemic lockdowns and suffered when people resumed their normal routines. The decision to remove the invite-only feature also caused a rapid influx of new members and removed any exclusivity. Clubhouse management also failed to define a business model and was unaware of the components of a successful social media site.

What Happened to Facebook

Scroll to Top