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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Ask X

Ask launched their “double-secret sandbox for testing Ask experiences of the future”,, which looks like a version of Ask with more bells and whistles. Unfortunately a couple of those features also slow down the search experience... if only by seconds or less, but it’s those seconds I don’t want to waste, really (e.g. results have a fade in/ fade out effect, even when you just hit the back button – I’m reminded of Internet Explorer’s page transition feature, which luckily went extinct a couple of years ago).

Ask also has clustering features, with mixed usefulness. For example, a search for horse riding allows you to narrow the result to “riding schools” or “riding stables” (useful, I guess) and expand it to “swimming” or “skiing” (less useful I guess, unless you have a particularly gifted horse).

Other than that, it’s the actual ranking & scope of search results that matters (and is infinitely more hard to implement); a small and non-representative example, but searching for wikipedia horses shows Wikipedia’s page on horses in Google, whereas Ask X only finds the less relevant Wikipedia pages on “Band of Horses” and “Groom (horses)"; and while Google shows ~1,990,000 image results for “horse”, Ask X only finds ~907,700.

On a positive note, I think Ask X looks better than Ask, and it also shows multi-purpose, direct answer pages for very broad queries (like horse). While this might not be for everyone – and it doesn’t work on certain more specific queries – at least it looks like a niche Ask may be able to successfully position it in. Ionut Alex. Chitu of the Google Operating System blog predicts, “In 2007, search engines will move towards one interface that mixes specialized searches.”


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