Tag Archives | Ask.com

Ask.com Lives!

In my new Technologizer column for TIME.com, I write about Google alternatives, including Bing and Blekko. I also say I’m sorry there aren’t more of them: Among both big longtime Google rivals and startups, there seems to be a widespread assumption that Google has the search-engine market locked up and investing in core search-engine technology is therefore pointless.

One of those big longtime Google rivals is Ask.com, which announced last week that it’s going to cease work on its own search engine, use one provided by an unnamed third party, and focus on its Q&A service. Yesterday, I met up with Ask CEO Doug Leeds here at the Web 2.0 Summit conference in San Francisco, and we talked a bit about the company’s change in focus.

Leeds, first of all, said that he was sorry that it didn’t make sense for Ask to continue to build its own search engine from scratch. He pointed out, accurately, that Ask had a history of doing inventive stuff that later showed up in in its larger competitors. (Parts of this 2007 Ask redesign look like a blueprint for Google and Bing in 2010.) He said that made it tough for a smaller site such as Ask to compete based on pure innovation, and factored into the company’s decision to outsource search.

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Ask Not…

Ask.com–the search engine forever best known as the search engine formerly known as Ask Jeeves–is getting out of the search engine business and focusing on its recently-introduced Q&A service. I like competition–especially competition in product categories dominated by one massive player–so I’m sorry to hear it. But I’m not surprised. Basically, Ask never seemed to know what it was, and if it didn’t, how could its users?


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Yet Another New Ask.com

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.

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What the World’s Been Searching For in 2009

It’s become a tradition for the major search engines to release year-end summaries of what their users have been searching for–and for reasons unknown to me, all of them unveil these lists on December 1st, so they really cover 11/12th of the year.

After the jump, lists from Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Ask.com–sadly but unsurprisingly, the gent to the right hit number one on three out of the four charts. And just for the heck of it, I’ll tell you about the searches that bring folks to Technologizer, absolutely none of which involve deceased celebrities, reality TV, or infectious diseases.

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Bing Gets a Jingle

Bing LogoI just this very moment formulated a new theory about search engines: It may be impossible to do good TV-style advertising for them. They’re free, you can try them at will, and if they’re not pretty self-explanatory, they’ve failed from the get-go. All of which makes it hard to spend thirty seconds saying anything useful about them.

With that in mind, my instinct is not to judge the user-generated Bing jingle video that won Microsoft’s contest too harshly. TechCrunch’s MG Siegler compares it to Hell; I just find it…odd. (Possibly intentionally so, and odd in a catchy way, at least.) And except for the fact that the lyrics wouldn’t scan, it could be about any other search engine on the planet, from Google to a tenth-stringer like Mamma.

(I’m not going to stoop for criticizing the ad for the fact that the queries shown, such as “Learn to dance like Jonathan,” don’t provide useful results in Bing or any other search engine.)

Also looking on the bright side: It’s nowhere near as odd and ineffective as years and years of Ask.com ads that cost that company way, way more money than the $500 that Microsoft paid its contest winner.

Ask.com

Another plus: Bing’s new singing, dancing spokesman doesn’t vomit onscreen.

(Full disclosure: Bing is an advertiser on this site, and I’m a contributor to the Bing-sponsored BingTweets.)


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The Return of Jeeves

The Return of JeevesI’ve written before that Ask.com has been a search engine that’s skittered from one advertising message to another for years. Now it’s trying yet another approach: Its original one! Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Land brought to my attention the entertaining fact that Ask’s UK version has gone back to its first name, Ask Jeeves, and has brought back P.G. Wodehouse’s famous manservant (or a rough approximation thereof) as its spokesmascot.

Here’s what you now get at uk.Ask.com:

Ask Jeeves UK

Schwartz’s story quotes Ask.com as saying the sort of things you’d expect it to say: that this is a new-and-improved Jeeves (he’s computer-rendered!) representing a new-and-improved search engine, that Jeeves’ name recognition is extremely high in the UK, and that it has no plans to to bring him back in the states. All of which makes sense. But I kind of hope that he makes his return here, too–the original positioning of the site was the only one that was memorable and made intuitive sense, and I remain steadfast in the belief that it’s almost always a mistake to try and rename anything. If VW can bring back the Rabbit after all these years, there would be no shame in Jeeves getting his old gig back.

(Ask spokesman Nicholas Graham did tell Schwartz that going to AskJeeves.com gets you Ask.com with Jeeves hanging out on the home page–if I’d known that, I’d forgotten about it. Betcha the number of people who do that every day is much higher than zero.)

Also, is it just me, or does this latest version of Jeeves bear an uncanny resemblance to his ultimate boss, IAC chairman and CEO Barry Diller?

Jeeves and Barry Diller


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Yahoo Glue: It’s Like Last Year’s Ask.com (and That’s Good!)

yahoogluelogoLast month, I groused about the fact that Ask.com had rolled out a redesign that did away with its clever melding of Web search results, images, news, video, and more on one page. Today, after a trial run in India, Yahoo rolled out a new service called Yahoo Glue. And I’m pleased to report that it’s an awful lot like the Ask.com I missed.

Do a search, and you get a page with filled with modules dedicated to news, images, YouTube videos, Yahoo Answers, Google (sic!) Blog Search, Wikipedia data, and more. The results you get are based in part on the sort of topic you searched for: For instance, when I searched for “Paris,” content from Lonely Planet and Panoramio images of the city were near the top.

Can I pick a few nits, though?

–Oddly enough, the one thing that Glue doesn’t include are plain ol’ Web search results, from Yahoo or anybody else. This is a separate service from search, but I’d much rather get at least a few search results as part of the package. (With Ask.com, the integrated pages were simply Ask’s primary search interface, so you always got search results.)

–Glue sometimes throws in modules only vaguely related to the subject at hand–for instance, when I searched for “Rutherford B. Hayes,” I got a module of Memeorandum links to stories about current politics.

–There weren’t Glue pages at all for some of my searches, such as “Columbia University.” In those situations, Glue offers to give you results from Yahoo Search. (Ask.com’s approach was more sophisticated–it gave you a few modules or a lot of them, but it always gave you something.)

Like Ask.com’s old format, Glue competes with Google’s Universal Search feature, which weaves results of different types into standard search results rather than breaking them out into modules. I like that approach, too. But I’m glad to have Glue, and hope that Yahoo gives it enough love that it grows and gets better with time. If you check it out, lemme know what you think.


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The T-List: (BlackBerry) Storm Rising

The T-Mobile G1, the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic, and now the BlackBerry Storm. The iPhone-like touchscreen phones are coming at us fast and furious. And while the Storm doesn’t look to be the mythical “iPhone killer” that folks like to talk about, it’s the most interesting iPhone rival from a hardware standpoint.
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Ask.com: A Search Engine in Search of Character

Observant readers may have noticed that my look at the new version of Ask.com contained no mentions of the fact that Ask used to be known as Ask Jeeves, pining for that old name, or clever butler references. That was intentional. There oughta be a statute of limitations on clichéd references to things which are no longer true about technology products and services. And it’s been two and a half years since Ask.com dumped Jeeves, so I figured it deserved to be judged on its current merits rather than obsolete branding.

But…

After I finished up that post, I happened across an article in the UK’s Guardian about a new Ask.com ad campaign that coincides with the update to the search engine, and it got me thinking. Ask is far from the largest search engine, but it may be the most heavily-advertised one–for years, it’s attempted to make inroads against Google in part through multiple barrages of TV spots. But Ask, which in its Ask Jeeves days at least had a distinct personality, leaps from advertising message to advertising message with abandon, always in search of a new way to differentiate itself from the crowd but never holding onto a message for long. After the jump, a retrospective.

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The New Ask.com: A Little Less Distinctive

I really liked the new version of Ask.com that arrived back in June of 2007–in part because it was so clearly not Google or a shameless Google wannabee. That version sported a three-pane interface that divvied results up into discrete sections for Web pages, news, images, video, and more. It was a strikingly different approach than Google’s Universal Search, which weaves results of all sorts into one list.

It would seem that consumers didn’t greet a radically different Ask.com as warmly as I did–Comscore data for August 2008 shows Ask with 4.5 percent of the search market, down from 5 percent in May 2007, right before that redesign. Fifteen months later, Ask has released another new version, and it’s dumped the divvied-results feature in favor of something that looks a lot more like Google, previous versions of Ask, and most every other search engine on the planet.

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