Ask and you shall receive

After briefly reading a headline on my BBC News RSS feed today about Google having a really poor privacy policy, I decided to have a quick look around at the other search engines available, something I’ve not felt I’ve had to do for almost a decade.

It’s a generally accepted fact that the Google search engine is by far the most widely used at the moment, having offered something refreshingly simple since its birth in the 90s, when every other web site was bursting with columns and extra information. Google’s revolutionary and speedy approach to web site listings was embraced by us all, and “google” has become a verb now too. The cleverclogs in the Google Labs have also been busy taking over the rest of the web too, with the now popular Gmail webmail system, the fast and easy to use Google Maps, Google Documents, and the rest, all interconnected and making good use of Ajax controls and Web 2.0 functionality. But in all that development, has the original search engine been forgotten?

Yes, the Google home page is still clean and uncluttered, but design-wise it’s a little clumsy – the placement of certain links is haphazard at best, and lacks the wow-factor we might expect from a high-flying web development company. The results pages are tidy but uninspiring and give little more information than the links and a brief description of them. It’s all feeling a bit flat and unimaginative at the moment.

Yahoo! is one of the competition who have refused to die, and now seems to be more known for its groups and e-mail system than its search engine. After a few minutes of using it I was distinctly unimpressed, mainly because it looked almost identical to Google’s results page – enough so that I did have to check that I was looking at the right site and that Google and Yahoo! hadn’t merged while I hadn’t been looking.

And then I found ask.com, which seems to be doing something quite different and new with searching. For a start the home page is well laid-out, echoing the simplicity of the Google home page, but with a customisable background and some nice graphical titbits to keep you entertained. The results page is where it gets clever though.

For example, I searched for “Brian Bromberg“, superb jazz double bass player. The first result was not a web page, but an extract from a biography telling me who he is, even including a photo of him. Then there were all the web pages, starting with his own home page. Some results even have a site preview button, which gives you a snapshot of what the site looks like, and even tells you if the site uses Flash or popups – very clever!

In the left hand panel you have the search controls, allowing you to select a suggested related search to narrow down or expand the results, and even lists the names of other jazz musicians you might be interested in. There’s also a right hand panel giving yet more information – a selection of photos, a Wikipedia extract, and a video (though the video isn’t actually of Brian but another bassist, still at least it gets the right instrument). In essence, then, ask.com gives you far more than you ask for, but displays it in such a way that it’s actually useful, and begs the question why other search engines aren’t doing the same.

So I shall probably be giving ask.com some time as my default search engine, and I’d recommend that you do too – googling isn’t the only option.

One thought on “Ask and you shall receive

  1. Quick update for you all. Ask.com does indeed have a pretty interface, but I’m beginning to wonder if I trust its results quite as much as Google. Sure, if you ask it something it knows about, it’ll give you bucketloads of info from various sources, but try something more obscure and it struggles to put anything meaningful at the top of the list. I’ll reserve ultimate judgement for later, but for now I have mixed impressions…

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