Website review: Ask.com


14 Jul 2007

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Nobody searches the web anymore do they? They just google. In fact “google” is officially a verb in the Oxford English dictionary. Well if you want an answer to something, why don’t you just ask?

Ask.com is the new, completely overhauled version of askjeeves.com, founded in 1996, which to be honest wasn’t all that amazing.

The trusty butler Jeeves may have retired, but the new site isn’t just a re-branding, it seems to have been designed with a great deal of thought put into surfer usability.

Ask.com has a great layout. The homepage is very minimalist and Web 2.0-looking, but the results page is organised in different sections to make your search results easier to view, and more relevant.

Being that it is the hot topic of the moment I entered in “iPhone” into Ask.com’s search engine. The results come back in three sections. The main, or centre panel, has a listing of the official sites associated with the iPhone, including Apple.com and Cingular.com.

This was followed by sponsored results that are highlighted in yellow, so they’re easy to skip past to the links you want. After that all the general pages covering the iPhone are listed, broken up by another set of sponsored results.

The right hand side of the page offered me the latest iPhone-related news, followed by a Wikipedia definition.

The left hand side of ask.com displays the search box for navigating away from your results, but the feature I like is the ability to narrow or expand your search with a list of suggested key words.

I was given topics such as mobile phone, or phone numbers, and related names like Alexander Graham Bell.

Maybe not what an iPhone enthusiast might be interested in but I see great potential for this as a research tool superior to Google, rather than a general jack of all trades search engine.

It fell down on misspellings. Google is good for suggesting “did you mean?” if you mistype a word. Disappointingly Ask.com gave me a list of links for “iPhonr”. Not what I wanted.

It does some way to make up for it by the pop-up menu suggesting different searches like “iPhone release date” or “iPhone UK”. If you find this prompting annoying, it can be easily disabled.

Personalisation options are extended if you sign up for a free MyStuff account. You can upload pictures onto your account, and add your bookmarks from Internet Explorer or Firefox.

This allows you to add tags, or keywords, to your saved links so it gets easy to search through your masses of bookmarks for what you want, a little bit like the functionality in social bookmarking tool del.icio.us.

The high point of ask.com is the fact that ads are not the first thing you see in a search return, unlike Google.

The only drawback is that because Ask.com has a much smaller market share than Google, I’m afraid it won’t index as much content, and to that end I’m partially correct in relation to regional versions of the site. Searching for Eircom in Google.ie gives me the official homepage immediately whereas the first link returned by Ask.ie contained language that would make your granny blush.

By Marie Boran