Thursday, 7 June 2007

Ask takes on a new look

The Ask search engine (formerly Ask Jeeves) has launched a new look in a further attempt to attract more search traffic away from the 'big 3'. On the initial clean search page (which offers different 'skins' for added personalisation), there are 5 main search options - web, images, city (business finder), news and blogs - with some added options through an additional drop-down menu.

Once you complete a search the resulting page offers three columns, with the main results list bordered by options to narrow or expand the search to the left, and alternative results to the right, which for a general web search generates some images, news, possibly video and dictionary links if appropriate. Ask have explained that they are trying to move away from search as a simple linear process of moving from one stage to another, and instead want to make it more iterative so that the users has options and can develop their search results into the relevant outcome.

Ask are re-emphasising their 'pure-play' search model which, they claim, offers the best alternative to Google, rather than on MSN and Yahoo! where search is one part of the overall portal offering. The new look is also a move towards the 'universal search' style of results that Google is offering and it makes for an interesting search experience.

However, the key issue will remain the question of what is actually 'under the hood' of Ask. How relevant are the results compared to Google and what will the overall search experience be like for the average user? Will they find too much going on here so that choice becomes a barrier to finding the right information? Will Ask's search quality match Google's - we still find that Ask's results can be hopelessly outdated and the spider activity is wanting so that recency remains a real problem with this tool.

Ask have supported their changes with a big brand building campaign in the US, but it's going to be word-of-mouth that's going to help them make any inroads into the current search market. We'd like to see Ask become a bigger player again, but Google will remain a hard nut to crack for some time yet.

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