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IAC Goes Google Route

But overarching corporate strategy aside, the experience for the end user will be the only consideration in deciding what does -- or does not -- get bundled with Ask.com, says Jim Lanzone, Ask.com's CEO. "User satisfaction is the primary factor in how we integrate with the other companies," says Lanzone. "We would only partner with companies that we would want to partner with -- even if we were not owned by IAC. Of course, being sister companies, we have a way of getting under the hood and integrating at levels that are very deep."

And while the quality of its searches should benefit from IAC's other holdings, Ask.com will ultimately compete on its merits as a search engine alone, and not because of any other affiliated offerings. This path will stray from the approach taken by Yahoo! (YHOO - Get Report) and MSN -- which offer a variety of other features ranging from content to email in order to funnel users to their search functions -- and put Ask.com in a more head-to-head competition with Google.

Ask.com's decision to put all its bets behind search quality alone stems from the growing importance on the Web of the search function. A decade ago, it was thought that users would simply click on the search engine most convenient for them -- such as the portal they were trolling.

But users now flock to the search engine that delivers the best results -- especially in the 18-to-45-year-old demographic coveted by advertisers, says Lanzone. "More and more, people who in the past used portals are now migrating to search experts like Google and Ask.com," he says.

It's an ambitious plan. For one thing, a lot of users will continue to use portals out of force of habit. The fact that Lycos -- an all-but-forgotten relic for most Internet users -- continues to get the kind of traffic that it does is testament to this.

But for those users intent on finding the best search engine, Ask.com will be competing against Google itself, a tall order on the best of days.

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