Ask Goes Local With AskCity

Has anyone noticed that the 4th search engine Ask seems to be doing some nice things and usually gets it right with new additions?

Add Ask to the list of search engines letting you search on a map. Earlier today they launched AskCity, their new local search and map, which while similar to the map search of the big three engines, adds a few nice features and touches. Even though I’m not the most frequent users of any of them I thought I’d take AskCity for a spin and see how it compares.

Through the very unscientific testing of my own perception AskCity felt a little faster than the other map search applications. Maybe it’s just because I’m often impressed with Ask and wanted it to be faster, but it did feel faster to me. In truth all maps seem to take too long to me to load, and chances are they’re all loadng in about the same time.

AskCity Features

Taking a cue from MSN, Ask adds a context menu to allow you to center any part of the map and zoom in or out on it. I don’t always want to search for a map location. Sometimes I just need to zoom in and being able to center the area I want to zoom in on is a nice feature. Yahoo for it’s part at least provides a cross hair. Google…umm…let’s just say Google set off the recent map craze.

You can add a location and get a push pin to stick around while you move to other parts of the map as well, though MSN’s push pin does allow you to add your own title and comments.

One thing I found I really like about AskCity is the ability to take a snapshot of your current map. A simple series of buttons at the bottom saves your current map and makes it easy for you to get back to it if you decide to look at another part of the world. It’s a nice touch to be able to quickly go back and forth between maps and I played around with it by comparing the map and aerial view over my apartment.

Another nice feature is the ability to type or draw directly on a map. You can add identifying text or draw around a particular portion of any map, when printing or emailing the map to a friend. It’s an easy way to send a map to a friend and let them know where to meet. For the moment I’m just having fun drawing boxes and circles around the houses of people I know.

Searching The City Locally

The local search portion of the application will be familiar, but I did appreciate the ability to search directly for a movie or event. Last week while in New York I caught the latest James Bond flick (a good movie by the way for any who like following the adventures of 007) and I thought I’d see where it was playing in Boulder. With a map of Boulder on screen I typed “casino royale” into the search box and next thing I knew I had the name of the theater in town where it’s playing along with a close up map zeroing in on the theater itself. Also along for the ride were links for directions to the theater, more info about the movie itself, and a link to buy tickets. Since I’ve seen the movie I didn’t buy tickets.

You’ll get much of the same functionality when searching. For example typing ‘japanese restaurants boulder, colorado’ in both AskCity and Google Local brings up a similar list of restaurants and tells me where each is on the map. MSN works about the same while Yahoo gets me to the same info with more of a directory approach.

Like I mentioned at the start I’m not the most frequent of users for any of the map applications and for all I know the others offer some even better features. A quick scan of each leads me to believe that Google, despite being first, is really lagging far behind in what their map and local search offers the end user. Ask on the other hand always seems to have the end user in mind more than any of the big three, which probably accounts for it’s growing popularity.

It still has a long way to go to catch up with the big three when it comes to traffic, but it seems to pick up a little more market share every time I see a new chart. The latest showed Ask at 5.8% of all searches in the U.S., or about half as many as MSN. I’d be lying if I said I go to Ask first when searching, but I have been going to it more and with each new addition I’m liking the them better.

Give AskCity a spin yourself and see what you think. You may already have your favorite local search, but I’m thinking you’ll be impressed with AskCity. I know I’m enjoying it and I’ll be interested in seeing what new features they add in the coming months.

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