New Ask 3D Interface: Should Google Worry?

The algorithm killed who? And lives where? Is either relevant? What is relevant is the relaunch of Ask as Ask 3D complete with a new interface. There’s a lot to like in the changes, which are remarkable.

Some of the tools that used to site to the right are now incorporated as icons above the search box. You can click on the Skins drop down just below the search to choose an image which will become the background for the entire page. In time Ask will let you upload your own images to use as a background, if you’re signed in.

Some of the other tools can be found under the Options drop down in the upper right.

Just to the left of the Options is another drop down that’s marked Guest, though it’s meant to be used while you’re signed into Ask. Here’s where you can find things like Recent Searches, Saved Results, Folders. and Tags you’ve given to search results.

The search box comes with a type ahead feature offering search suggestions. Nothing new in search, but nicely done.

The real fun begins after you’ve performed a search and are inside. The 3D in Ask 3D is presumably for the new three column layout, each column having a different purpose in the layout. Here’s a look, albeit a small one, at the page after a search for The Beatles.

The left column stays put when you scroll the page and contains sections to Narrow Your Search, Expand Your Search, or to choose a Related Search. All seem to function well enough, though there’s room for improvement. The reason for the fixed column is a result of testing Ask did where users felt a sense of stability with this navigation staying in place. It works well in the interface.

At the top of the center column for The Beatles search is Ask’s Smart Answers feature with some quick info and links. Just below is an area for sponsored results. Following the paid listings are the organic listings, complete with Ask’s ‘binoculars’ feature that show a preview of the site on the other end of the link. As you mouseover a result an icon appears allowing you to save the results, add a description, tag it, and give it a folder. All of which you can access late through your profile. Below the organic results are a call to download the Ask toolbar and another sponsored link.

I haven’t compared the organic results for relevancy. I’ll assume they’re much the same as they would have been last week, which would place them somewhere between Google and MSN Live search results.

It’s the right sidebar where the magic really happens. The results all come from vertical search, many of which are the property of Ask’s parent company IAC. The results you’ll see in the right sidebar are query dependent. Have a look at this search for seo and compare it to the search for The Beatles above.

The sidebar for The Beatles search offers Images, Popular Tracks, and Video, where the seo search offers Encyclopedia (a link to the Wikipedia), Video, and Blogs. What appears in the sidebar is controlled by Ask’s new Morph algorithm, which seems to work well based on the searches I’ve tried. So far I’ve seen modules appear for

  • news
  • shopping
  • images
  • video
  • blog
  • politics blog
  • encyclopedia
  • dictionary
  • popular tracks
  • current weather
  • current time

The video results could certainly stand an improvement in relevancy as the seo search is showing videos for a deadly twister and something about the Dodgers five game winning streak. Not quite seo related. The video search will be provided by Blinkx in time so they should get better.

Another nice touch in the sidebar is the ability to search for more in the module. When your mouse is in one of the modules a magnifying glass icon appears and a click closes the results in the module and brings up a search box all in impressive Ajax form.

Will all the changes be enough to take market share away from Google? That remains to be seen, but the new Ask interface is worth trying out. Ask does design a good interface and I like their approach to Universal Search better than Google’s approach of incorporating vertical search into the main organic results. Ask’s interface never feels crowded to me and it’s simple to figure out where to look for what you want. The algorithm that determines what modules to display in the sidebar works well though the algorithms determining what appears in those modules could be improved.

Ask 3D is worth looking at and now it’s up to Ask to get people to take that first look. I think if they can they will pick up some market share, though that share may come from Yahoo and MSN instead of Google.

There’s plenty being written about the new Ask 3D as you’d imagine. One you should definitely look at is the video demo at Marketing Pilgrim. Andy Beal interviewed Ask’s user experience guru, Michael Ferguson, who walks through some of the new features. The video about a half hour, but it’s worth the walk through from Michael who goes into more detail about the interface including some of the reasons behind the change.

Do give Ask a try. I’ll leave it up to you which is your search engine of choice, but you may find a lot to like with Ask 3D. And for the record it was Jeeves the algorithm killed, though the New Jersey resident did not reveal what it had against the butler.

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