By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 11:08 am
Is Ask.com an also-ran in the search wars because it doesn’t know what it is, or does it engage in constant reinvention in hopes of finding the secret of huge success? I’m not sure. All I know is that I can’t think of another site that’s so willing to dump its user interface and start over from scratch.
That’s what it’s doing today with a new version that melds traditional search with Q&A features along the lines of Aardvark. The Q&A part is still in an invite-only preview, but you can see the new emphasis on questions and answers already: For instance, the home page now sports a question of the day, posed as a Trivial Pursuit-like multiple-choice quiz. (The inaugural one: “When did Bugs Bunny first say “What’s up, Doc”?)
The notion of mashing up classic search and an answer service is interesting, at least–and certainly different from anything Google is doing.
The new Ask replaces a not-particularly distinctive version that was launched in October 2008. That one superseded one from June of 2007 that I really liked–and which, with its left-hand sidebar, now feels like a preview of the interface that both Google and Bing later adopted. And the new emphasis on questions is reminiscent of the original incarnation of the site back in the 1990s, when it was known as Ask Jeeves.
I don’t know if Ask plans to run ads for its latest makeover, but it also has a long history of TV commercials with conflicting messages about just what the site is–or, sometimes, no discernible message at all.
I’m rooting for the new Ask.com for one simple reason: I like competition. And with Microsoft and Yahoo pooling their search resources, Ask is poised to become the third biggest search company. It’s going to be a very distant number three-ComScore says that its current market share in the US is 3.46 percent–but here’s hoping that the new approach is appealing enough that I don’t end up writing about yet another all-new Ask.com any time soon.