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Ask.com steps up the gear in search June 5, 2007

Posted by John in Technology.
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Look out – a worthy competitor to search-giant Google might be on its way.

Today we see a lot of buzz about Ask.com, the fifth largest search engine in the US (with about 5 percent of the search market). First of all, Ask launched a whole new search-service called Ask3D, as reported on the Ask.com-blog and by the New York Times. Second, the company signed a deal with video search engine Blinkx which allows Ask-customers to search more than 12 million hours of audio and video content, according to Daniel Thomas at CNN Money.com.

So what is Ask3D? Miguel Helft in New York Times describes it like this: “Starting today, Ask.com … will present answers to queries in a three-panel screen that includes standard links to search results but also lists of related searches and results from blogs, as well as video, photo, news and shopping sites.”

At the Ask.com-blog Daniel Read, VP of Products and User Experience, writes “this isn’t just about getting more information; it’s also about getting the right information. Accordingly, Ask3D literally morphs with each query you enter. No two searches are the same, so why should all search pages have the same stuff in the same order?” According to Read the service has been tested with 5 percent of Ask.com’s 25-30 million monthly users and they came away happier with “higher pick rates and higher frequency of use”.

One can’t help noticing the similarity to Google Universal Search. However Ask3D might be better. Many bloggers were impressed with the new service, writing enthusiastically about the new algorithm called Morph (see for example John Battelle’s Searchblog) but they also noticed the somewhat difficult time that Ask.com has been through.

At GigaOm Om Malik describes the new service as “pretty nifty and pleasant”. Andy Beal, writing at Marketing Pilgrim, says he’s very impressed and believes most Ask.com users will be too. TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington, also providing a thorough review of the service, calls it an excellent upgrade. “If every 1% of the search market is worth $1 billion or more then this investment will certainly pay off,” he notes.

At SearchEngineWatch Kevin Newcomb writes that Ask.com’s new multi-faceted search interface sets it apart from other search engines, giving Google users a legitimate reason to give Ask.com a try:”The new version of Ask.com has been dubbed “Ask3D” for its 3-paneled search results which represent the three stages of each search: type a query, review results, and click through to content. While other search engines tend to treat this process as a step-by-step undertaking, Ask3D is presenting all three steps on a single page, to align more closely with the way people actually search.”

Launching Ask3D has been a long journey for Ask.com and owner InterActive Corp. At HipMojo.com Froosh notes that despite the high expectations and investment in Ask.com, itss share of the search market has been slipping as Google has tightened its grip. In April 2007, Ask garnered 5.1% of the search market as compared with 49.7% for Google, according to ComScore. At SearchEngineLand Greg Sterling adds that the site never got the notice and usage that CEO Jim Lanzone feels is justified.

Dan Farber, writing at Between the Lines, says that Ask.com now has breathed some new life into search. He also compares it to Google Universal Search: “It’s similar to Ask3D by virtue of integrating various data types and using sophisticated technology, but it is still mostly a sea of links, lacking the user interface enhancements and layout navigation features that Ask3D delivers,” he says.

We look forward to following what may be the start of a new battle in search.

By Tina Magnergard Bjers and John Furrier

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