Whatever happened to the American tendency to root for the underdog? Sure, in this case the underdog is backed by a movie mogul and used to be a cheesy site with a butler illustration on its homepage, but you get my point. In the world of search, Ask has been an also-ran for a looong time, and I’m personally tired of people dissing it.
So what’s the background here? Yes, Ask did recently kick-start a campaign that centers around the word “ALGORITHM”. The goal here is to emulate the “Intel Inside” anti-commoditization effect on computer chips, as well-documented on Ask’s official blog.
Sure, all of us Valley types are thrown off by the big-ass “The Unabomber hates the Algorithm” billboard on the 101. Sure, the full page NYTimes ad that discusses the history of search and the algorithms behind it came across as obtuse and pretentious. Yes, it does take more than good advertising (and Ask’s advertising isn’t good) to make a search engine tick.
But so what? At least those guys are fighting the fight instead of caving into the highly common Google fanboyism that pervades the Valley. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Google Universal Search is a really small baby step into SERP innovation and Ask3D’s UI would whomp Goog’s ass in a search engine death match.
So let’s all back up off how awful Ask is. In a consumer web filled with borderline ridiculous $12000 startups, atleast Ask makes for interesting (if geeky) conversation.
I’ve been playing around with AskX (the double-secret search sandbox, tongue in cheek) for the past two months and have been consistently impressed. It is nice to see them debut their product to the world at large under the name “Ask 3D”. John Battelle talks about the new interface here and discusses that only a fourth-place player like AskX can throw caution to the wind in terms of getting rid of crusty old SERP.
Unlike most other folks, I’ve been using AskX for quite awhile, and here are my deep-thoughts-by-Jack-Handy:
a) GOOG Universal search is somewhat behind the curve on the interface. While GOOG’s results are unparalleled, Ask’s UI risks have paid off handsomely.
b) I use AskX for health queries as part of my day job. AskX tries to provide a more 360 view by bundling Wikipedia, Healthline results and images/videos.
c) AskX did not have UI skin options – Ask 3D does. God bless Ask 3D! Trivial, cool stuff makes my day.
d) While the world is gaga over Ask’s repudiation of the traditional SERP model, I would argue that they didn’t go far enough. Unless I’m batshit blind, they still have a bunch of links in the middle rail of the results page with “extras” on the left/right rail. Call me biased, but I truly believe that Kosmix tries very, very hard to push the envelope on a keyword interface (even though we’re decidedly NOT search and don’t compete with Ask/GoogMonster). Try a topic – it’s on the house!
e) Ask Morph has made a big deal out of narrowed/expanded searches. However, their scope is IMHO not very expansive. For a health query example on which this feature falls over, see screenshot below. Kosmix will do a far superior job of categorizing the term “rooster comb injection” and mapping it to osteoarthritis.
Update: I love Valleywag, but watch them get too caught up in being snarky and go fabulously wrong on Ask’s prospects here