Ask.com's service might annoy many today thanks to its uncanny ability to show up as a toolbar option in many installers, but back in the day, when it was still known as Ask Jeeves, many considered it to be one of the coolest services going. Amidst much competition, Ask's usage declined over time, and as it became clear that the company wasn't exactly winning its battle as a search engine with the likes of Google, it decided to become more of a Q&A service. As of the time of writing, it enjoys 180 million regular monthly visitors.
Latvian-based Ask.fm, launched in 2010, shares similar goals, and also happens to have the under-18 demographic account for 40% of its overall userbase. Not surprisingly, Ask.com was struck by this similarly-named service, and so it's decided to snatch it up - for an unknown value.
This is an acquisition that brings a bit of baggage, however. Throughout Ask.fm's life, its founders didn't mold the service in any real way, preferring to have a hands-off approach. This hasn't exactly played out that well, as a number of teen suicides have been linked to the site. When a service allows you to hide under a veil, it doesn't take much imagination to grasp how some people are going to behave.
Ask.com didn't go into this deal ignorant of these facts, and so it's vowed to improve the situation. It's planning to invest "millions" into adding new tools and moderators, and has also brought on board Yahoo!'s former Director of Global Safety and Product Policy Catherine Teitelbaum to head-up the position of Chief Trust and Safety Officer. Keeping things "safe" on Ask.fm is no doubt going to be challenging, but it seems the right moves are being made, at least so far.
As with most acquisitions of a popular social service, Ask.com will have the added challenge of growing the service without driving its current userbase away. As Ask.fm's founders have left the company entirely with this deal, there could be some fairly big plans in store.