- How Employees Inspired Ask’s HQ Redesign
This past summer, Ask HQ was busy undergoing a complete office remodel and we can’t wait to show it off! We ditched cubicles in favor of an open newsroom-style workspace to encourage an even more collaborative environment for employees. Gone are the days of private offices, and in its place, we’ve added a variety of meeting spaces where people can more freely interact and exchange ideas. Interns sit next to our CEO, engineers sit next to designers, giving employees across all departments the chance to work together in a more informal and spontaneous setting. But it’s not just about the work spaces, our new digs boast a large coffee-bar lounge decorated with pieces honoring the amazing work of local Bay Area artists and paying homage to our home town of Oakland, California. Employees and visitors to our new offices have raved about the new, fresh design. We sat down with our very own style and interior design expert, Maria Sharp, who led the decorating charge, to learn more about her inspiration for the new space.
What was your inspiration or your starting point for a theme in decorating this new space?
Maria: The space itself was planned around the idea of collaboration. We knew that without offices, we would need spaces that people could use for impromptu meetings and informal gatherings. We had already decided that we would build a coffee and espresso bar, so they asked me to create décor around that initial design on one of our floors. From there, we incorporated modern design elements that were still funtional for the new workspace layout like a donut shaped couch where small groups can meet in a semi-private space. We also kept in mind that employees often like to meet over lunch and selected several large tables and chairs to accommodate those that were taking a break as well as those meeting with colleagues.
Was there a specific vibe that you wanted to evoke throughout the redesign?
Maria: I definitely wanted to bring in a sense of comfort and warmth. A lot of the space on our new floors is very open, but I didn’t want it too feel so wide open that it felt cold and unwelcoming. I created these smaller vignettes within the larger spaces, each little pocket has its own theme, a different mood. So in the coffee bar, for example, you can sit in a particular corner of couches and comfy chairs and have a 1:1 conversation with someone or you can sit in another area with dining table to set your laptop on. All of the furniture we selected can even be rearranged to accommodate our all-staff meetings. Both floors also include a separate library area, with diner-style booths where you can plug in and work in a quieter and more private area (as opposed to the open newsroom-style desks).
You had to design a common spaces for over 200 people—how did you pick pieces and color schemes that would appeal to such a wide range of people?
Maria: I started from the idea of picking things that I felt reflected our neighborhood (Oakland), from the crane models and the old coffee pots from a local estates sale, to the coffee itself, which is purchased from Peet’s. I wanted it to look modern and contemporary, but also used reclaimed and local pieces, and I think the finished product just gives off a vibe of timelessness. You really can’t go wrong with classic neutral pieces because you can build on them and make them new again. Both of our new floors are decorated with artwork from local artists. We painted some panels of walls in bright vivid colors, while other area’s have a warmer and cozier color scheme. The idea was to provide options for any mood, and any meeting purpose. If you want a bright and fun area to inspire brainstorming sessions, we have that. But just around the corner is a cozy quiet nook where you can settle in and get some solo work done.
How did you find the local artists to contribute to the furniture decor?
Maria: I was shopping in Temescal Alley, and I started talking to the owner of a shop called Walrus. I was looking for shelving, which was going to be the centerpiece of the coffee bar. Through my conversation with her, we came up with the idea of adding custom-made artwork and seating. We used reclaimed belts and wood for the shelves, and the seating was made from 100 year old lath.
And how about all this incredible artwork decorating the walls?
Maria: We’re working with Slate Art, and Danielle Fox has been our curator for sourcing local Bay Area artists. We change out the artwork every quarter which lets us refresh the space, and our employees have the opportunity to purchase the art. We really want to support the local art community in Oakland, and this arrangement lets us expose our employees to a variety of local artists which is great!
What does the future hold for this space, have any new design plans you can share?
Maria: Yes! We are actually branding the coffee bar, to “Perks of the Job”, complete with branded coffee jackets and a custom lit sign. A grand opening party is in the works and will be an open-mic style party, showcasing our employees and their hidden talents.
What’s your favorite thing about this new space you’ve helped to create?
Maria: I really like how everyone at the company has embraced this space. I eat lunch in the big open kitchen with all the natural light, have brainstorming sessions in our new conference rooms, and then grab a coffee with friends in our coffee bar. It was our goal to create a space that fostered collaboration while providing more comfortable work areas to accommodate all of our employees’ needs. I’d say we hit the nail on the head - it’s great to see it all come together so well.
- It's Official - Eric McKirdy Named 1to1 Media Customer Champ!
We’re excited to announce that Ask.com’s Manager of Global Customer Care, Eric McKirdy, has been named as one of 1to1 Media’s 2014 Customer Champions. The 1to1 Media Customer Champions program recognizes leaders who focus on top-notch customer service and instills those practices throughout their entire organization.
Eric’s earned the the honor by completely revamping Ask.com’s CRM platform, which helped enable consumers to use convenient self-service and social media features. This is a much deserved win, as Eric is also the face of the company’s customer service - check him out on Twitter and LinkedIn. He is on the front lines each day, interacting with customers over phone, email, social media, and chat to give personalized support to customers reaching out for help.
“1to1 Media’s Customer Champions is a one-of-a-kind awards program that honors and spotlights the individuals responsible for game-changing customer-focused strategies,” said Mila D’Antonio, Editor-in-Chief of 1to1 Media. “From sweeping voice-of-the-customer initiatives and data analysis strategies to employee engagement and omnichannel initiatives, these 12 winners stand for creative disruption and are responsible for advancing their organizations’ customer strategies.”
You can see Eric’s full story here: http://bit.ly/1u8BeQf. Congratulations on the win, Eric!
- He Had a Question, She Had an Answer
Of all the great emails we receive daily from our 100 million monthly users, few were quite as memorable as the one we received from Anthony Mak of Toronto, Canada:
"I was hoping to use Ask.com to propose to my girlfriend. I was hoping I could have a picture of us with the words ‘Kelly Im, Will you marry me?’ when searching her name in Ask.com. Is this possible? If so, how much would it cost? Thank you."
With some details from Anthony and pictures of the happy couple, our Knowledge Engineering team built a custom Smart Answer that would trigger with the appropriate query. When they were finished, it looked like this:
Anthony approved and then it was hurry-up-and-wait time until the proposal date! About a week later, we received the update we were all waiting for. After a romantic date night, Anthony convinced Kelly that she should work on her LinkedIn profile and start with a quick search on herself to see what came up. With his iPad already queued up to the Ask.com homepage, Anthony coaxed Kelly to search her name and, well, the rest is history!
Congratulations to Anthony and Kelly!
- Big News Today: Ask.com Acquires Ask.fm
As you may have read in the NYT today, Ask.com has acquired Ask.fm, the world’s largest social Q&A service with more than 180 million global monthly users.
Ask.com has been in the business of finding answering to questions from millions of people over the course of our 18 years, and we are proud that as a result we’ve built our brand to become synonymous with Q&A online. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that as Ask.fm started gaining increasingly significant traction over the past 18 months, we became concerned about the potential to confuse users. Accordingly, we considered, even pursued, several different courses of action; but all the while, becoming much more familiar with the product and its various use cases.
What we discovered was an incredibly engaged community, one growing growing rapidly all over the globe. Today, after just a few years in business, Ask.fm has an astounding 180 million users who are asking 20,000 questions per minute and making 670 posts every second – this puts Ask.fm on par with some of the biggest, most well-known social networks in the world.
What also was, and has been, abundantly clear, is that the need to materially enhance safety on the Ask.fm site is paramount – critical, really, to unlocking the service’s true potential. And the good news, is we’ve already started the process of making changes on the safety front, on day one of acquisition. Today, I am excited to share the following:
- Because we believe in a safety-first philosophy, it is important that this philosophy starts at the top of the organization. Accordingly, we are putting in place a new leadership team that shares this vision, and will have a fresh start to enact policies and procedures that are consistent with it. As a result, the founding leadership team of Ilya and Mark Terebin are no longer involved in the operations or ownership structure of the company. I want to thank them for building such a vibrant company, for their help and support in completing this deal, and wish them success in their future endeavors.
- We are thrilled to announce we’ve hired Chief Trust and Safety Officer Catherine Teitelbaum, formerly Director of Safety at Yahoo! to drive global Ask.fm trust and safety initiatives. Catherine’s years overseeing countless safety initiatives at Yahoo!, combined with her years as a trained educator and school teacher, make her the perfect leader to shape the future of Ask.fm’s trust and safety strategy.
- We have also appointed Annie Mullins OBE, Children’s Digital Worlds and Safety Expert and former Global Head Vodafone Content Standards, to the role of overseeing safety efforts in the UK, in addition to supporting Catherine on a global level. Annie is responsible for producing the Industry Social Media Good Practice standards for protecting children across the industry in the UK and Europe, as well as advising US companies such as Facebook, and Google on these matters. Annie has made recommendations to Ask.fm over the past year; we are now working together more formally to ensure her recommendations get put into practice.
- We plan on investing millions of dollars into enhancing moderation through a robust, human-powered approach and state-of-the-art automated filtering technology. Our key focus is to dramatically increase the amount of content we can review on the service through these efforts and start making real traction in terms of intervening when we abusive patterns of interaction or cries for help – doing our best to connect users in need of support with the right kind of services.
- Also announced today is our partnership with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler in the creation of parallel agreements under which Ask.fm will implement a set of best practices focused on increasing the safety of its services. Both the agreements underscore Ask.com’s commitment to partnering with government and law enforcement in an effort to create a safer and more engaging product experience on the Ask.fm site.
Safety issues are real for all global communications platforms and we are committed to solutions, not excuses. We have every intention of dedicating the time, manpower and resources to make Ask.fm a safer, more engaging experience to the benefit of not only its existing users, but millions of new users who have yet to discover it.
I am of the firm belief, and our investigation of the usage data confirms, that 180 million people aren’t on Ask.fm to be horrible to each other. So by making the site safer, we also make it more engaging to use, and allow Ask.fm’s compelling and unique take on social media—the ability to express yourself through the lens of what other people want to know about you—to shine through. With the right technology, guidelines, programs and procedures in place, we can root out bad actors to create a meaningful, compelling and fun place to connect, communicate and learn more about each other.
- Women 2.0 Comes to Oakland
Women 2.0’s City Meetup has arrived in Oakland! As long-time supporters of Women 2.0, we were at the event to help welcome them to our city. Speakers Angie Chang, Director of Growth, Hackbright Academy, Co-Founder, Women 2.0 and Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners and Farnaz Ronaghi, Co-founder and Director of Engineering at NovoEd spoke to a packed room of both women AND men at Pandora’s offices.
With such a diverse, talented and passionate group of professionals here in the East Bay, we’re excited about these types of networking events and we can’t wait until the next one!
- Ask About My Taste?!
Hi! My name is Quiajah and I am 13 years old. I go to Bret Harte middle school and I am in the 8th grade. I am in a leadership class where we participate in the Spark program. This program gives us a look at a company and the different jobs for our future. I chose Ask.com, an Internet company, so I could learn about how a technology company operates. I noticed that Ask has more than just engineers. There is a need for writers in a tech company as well. For this project, I wrote a blog to understand the writing and editing process. Ask.com interviewed me about my favorite foods and I worked with my mentors to edit and post the blog. Hope you enjoy it!
Q: Tell us a little more about yourself?
I am from Oakland, CA, and my favorite things to do in my free time are draw, cook , and eat. My favorite foods are tacos, hot dogs and hot wings.
Q: What do you like about Ask.com?
One thing I noticed and liked about Ask.com was their blog (blog.ask.com). I enjoy sharing my opinion so I want to share with you my reviews on my favorite foods.
Q: So how do you rank your favorite foods?
Based upon their flavor, texture, cook time.
Q: Why is cook time important to you?
Because if you wait for food for too long, sometimes you don’t want it anymore.
Q: Do you like your tacos soft or crunchy?
I like my tacos crunchy! My favorite thing about tacos are their crispy shell.
So Tacos win for texture!!!
Q: What is your favorite flavor of hot wings?
I like Buffalo Sauce Wings and I like to dip it in ranch dressing. Sometimes I will eat the celery, but only if I dip it in the ranch.
So Hot Wings win for flavor!!!
Q: How do you like your hotdog cooked?
I like it grilled. It is fast and easy and I like the way the charred part tastes.
So Hot Dogs when for cook time!!!
Q: At the end of the day, which food would you choose to be your favorite?
Hot Wings! They are easy to eat, delicious, and spicy. I recommend getting wings from Wingstop in Oakland! They are the best!!!
- Quiajah, Student at Bret Harte Middle School, Oakland
- Askers Hack for City of Oakland
As part of the National Day of Civic Hacking, Ask.com’s Chuck Smith and David Morgan participated in the annual Oakland Answers event this weekend.
Oakland Answers is a hack-a-thon to develop web pages that quickly and easily answer Oakland residents’ questions about the City of Oakland (think “Where can I register to vote?”, “Where can I pay my parking ticket?”). There’s also have a write-a-thon where teams come up with potential questions from the community and then write quality answers to those questions. Ask.com does exactly this for our 100 million global users each month - we just had to lend a helping hand to our local community.
And the community certainly came together. Together over 80 attendees submitted 108 Questions & Answers to increase the Answers databank by 50%. Now the citizens of Oakland have easy access to questions around parking, cycling, the dreaded DMV and much more.
Looking forward to next year!
- Ask.com Lights a Spark in Oakland!
Since 2012, Ask.com has worked with our program, Spark, to bring underserved middle school students out of the classroom and into the workplace. Our goal is to partner students with volunteers for individualized mentoring, which allows students to explore a variety of careers in a fun and hands-on experience!
Susan Salop, VP of International Operations at Ask.com, initially brought Spark and Ask together in a partnership that has been a huge success. Susan recently attended our Spark “National Strategy Day” in San Francisco, an event that brings together board members, partners and funders for a day of learning, conversation and networking.
On a panel during this event, Susan shared the story of Ask.com’s support of our program: “While Spark had grown in San Francisco, bringing the program to Oakland in 2012 was a challenge as Oakland lacks the volume of corporate offices that are so plentiful in San Francisco.” When Ask and Spark came together, Ask became one of Spark’s largest mentor sources in the Bay Area. “In fact,” Susan explained, “the demand for Ask.com employees to volunteer as mentors outweighed the number of eligible students in the company’s first session!”
In addition to her participation in National Strategy Day, Susan is also a mentor in our Spark program. She says she is “personally committed to expanding Spark’s reach, especially at tech companies in Oakland.” Susan recently mentored Axel, a 7th grader at Bret Harte Middle School in Oakland, and loved bringing students into the Ask.com headquarters!
“Ask.com is an anchor of support for our program,” said Kim Davis Charlot, Spark San Francisco Bay Area Executive Director. “Spark changes lives. With the visionary support from Ask.com and other companies, in the 2013-2014 school year Spark was able to enroll 235 Bay Area students in this transformational program.”
A big thanks to Susan and her team at Ask.com for being such an essential part of spreading Spark throughout the Bay Area!
- Sara Draffin, Spark San Francisco Bay Area Program Director
- Go Fish!
Last week, Ask and Dictionary.com employees teamed up with the East Bay Regional Park District for a sunny day of fishing and activities for special needs children.
We joined about 130 kids at Lake Temescal for face painting, arts and crafts, and of course, fishing! This was our 9th year participating in the Fishing Derby, and we can’t wait until next year!
- Earth Day Special: Bits and Bytes in Las Vegas
Ever think about what the Internet looks like behind the scenes? You might be surprised by the massive amount of work Internet companies are doing to bring us websites like Ask.com. A gigantic network of computers (servers) hums away at all hours of the day and night to bring information from every remote place in the world into our homes. This large network of machinery is not without its environmental consequences. Some estimates say that Internet data centers, the facilities that are home to the computers that serve the Internet, used an average of 30 gigawatts of power in 2012. That’s enough to power an entire country!
Titan, our existing server named after deities in Greek mythology, was built for Ask.com expansion many years ago. We rented a former NORAD missile control center and trucked in thousands of servers to bring more answers to the world’s questions. Part of my work here at Ask.com involves global strategies for data-center collocation. That means that I get to help make our website lean, mean, and better for our world’s ecosystem. Last year our team analyzed our servers and found an exciting opportunity. Innovations in technology both at Ask and worldwide created the possibility for us to retire this behemoth in favor of a leaner and more environmentally-friendly facility. We discovered an ability to close a huge data center capable of running almost 50,000 servers and replace it with only 150 lean-and-mean hypervisors.
Introducing Zeus - son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea! In March of 2014, a crack team of Ask.com engineers ventured screwdriver-in-hand to Las Vegas, Nevada to build Zeus, our next-generation data center. Zeus will be home to only 150 servers and operate at extremely-high efficiency. Not only is this better for our ecosystem, but it’s a great excuse to head to Las Vegas for frequent maintenance.
Check out the team in action as we installed Zeus!
Happy Earth Day Everyone!
- Jack Roehrig
Jack Roehrig runs platform and infrastructure services at Ask.com as Director, OSE and Information Security Officer.
http://www.greenhousedata.com/images/uploads/GHD_Data_Energy_Infographic.png (sources listed at bottom).