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Ask.com Drops the Baggage, Can They Compete with Google, Yahoo and MSN?

Ask.com Drops the Baggage, Can They Compete with Google, Yahoo and MSN?

Back when MSN announced its long-awaited new search technology to the world a year ago it was with little fanfare and a long-winded letter from Bill Gates. When ASK announced that it was dropping Jeeves and moving forward it was with a comedic look at the butler riding off into the sunset and a cleaner, less-cluttered home page appearing the next day in his place.

The fanfare began at the Search Engine Strategies Conference in New York, with Barry Diller‘s keynote question-and-answer appearance (podcast here) with Danny Sullivan in front of a large audience of search engine industry’s biggest names gathered in the Grand Ballroom at the Hilton.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the media-mogul credited for developing the Movie of the Week for ABC, for bringing Paramount grand success with hit television shows like Cheers and movies like Saturday Night Fever and for organizing the FOX network for 20th Century Fox, surely you are familiar with Ticketmaster, Expedia, Citysearch, Match.com and LendingTree (all of which are owned by InterActiveCorp). Barry Diller is chairman and CEO of IAC (formerly Silver King Communications among other names) and his latest $1.9 billion acquisition, Ask.com, has been in the search engine industry news lately as his decision to drop the slimmer, trimmer butler found mentions all over the Internet.

When Sullivan asked Diller at the conference about his decision to drop Jeeves, Diller stated that the search engine simply needed to “drop the baggage.” In fact, as the meeting continued, it was revealed that Ask.com not only dropped Jeeves, they dropped a lot of the other baggage as well, concentrating heavily on making the search experience more satisfying to users.

Jim Lazone, Ask’s senior vice president of search properties, came up on stage to illustrate how the new Ask.com re-design would show users tools they may not even be familiar with and do it in a new, non-cluttered way. With a simple drop and drag customizable toolbar on the right hand side of the page, users could search everything, including their own desktop, more productively right from the home page. The toolbox could also be minimized and even closed to suit the users’ preferences.

The fanfare ended late Monday night with a code red party thrown at the LQ nightclub in Manhattan where conference attendees were admitted by showing their Search Engine Strategies badge at the door. The party featured the butler’s image shrouded in cement and guarded by Star Wars stormtrooper-like sentinels who were armed with the latest in plastic weaponry as well as girls in red and a room with a life-sized video game featuring ssx tricky snowboarding fun.

The presentation was plain yet impressive, Diller was entertaining to say the least and the party was a definite hit, but the proof is in the pudding (or, in this case, in the results). Thinking back to reviewing MSN’s search shortly after they announced their new, more precise results, and that disappointing outcome, I headed over to test the new ASK search results.

What is the mass of the earth?

For easy comparison, I queried ASK with What is the mass of the earth because the previous search test on MSN and Google last year had easily reviewed the difference with MSN’s answer (world mass: 1 earth mass) and Google’s answer (earth’s mass=5.9742 x 1- to the 24th power kilograms).

To be totally fair, evidently someone at MSN read my previous article because a query today for the information on MSN will also garner the correct mathematical answer to that question. Yahoo, by the way, still doesn’t answer the question on the results page. You’d have to select the most appropriate link in the results and hope that you arrive at the numerical answer there.

Ask.com passed the query with flying colors as well, showing the answer at the top of the page. However, ASK goes one step further than other search engines by providing more result functions down the right side of the page. When searching for the mass of the earth, Ask offers more links to narrow your search (including information about the diameter, radius, density, volume and average temperature of the earth) and links to expand your search (including the mass of other planets and the sun) followed by a link to ‘more.’

Had I been a science student looking for information for my term paper, I might have found those links extremely useful without ever having to type in any additional queries.

Looking again to compare the top three with the new alternative, I entered the query brown clogs on a web search (without specifically electing a shopping search).

Google brought product search results to the top of the organic listings, but otherwise all four search engines did an otherwise evenly comparable job of leading me to purchase a new pair of brown clogs online. The only non-relevant result appeared in the tenth place on MSN’s results page (it was for brownpapertickets.com).

Given the new look and feel of ASK as well as the new features “under the hood” it is easily ready to take the second position in search popularity, which is right where Barry Diller and the folks at ASK want to be.

And, in reality, given that many Internet searchers arenâ’t familiar with the many search tools and functions available at Google, ASK could easily gain in popularity given the toolbar located within easy reach on the homepage for the masses of every day searchers. This is now the search engine to watch!

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Lisa Melvin is a Search Marketing Specialist at WebAdvantage.net, an SEO Agency in Maryland, and has been helping clients maximize their search engine visibility since 1998.

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