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June 21, 2007

Our New Home Page: There's No Place Like It

We've talked quite a bit lately about all the great stuff inside Ask3D. Now we're going to take a look at its outside, i.e. our home page.

Yep, we've got a whole new look, with new icons painstakingly designed to represent the various Ask.com search tools.

And there's plenty of function that goes with it, like search suggestions that automatically reveal themselves as you type.

And check this out: you can re-skin your Ask.com home page whenever you feel like it. Here are a few of the options you can choose from:

Of course, once you get past this page, you'll get our three-panel results page, our various in-line content functions , and all the other great new Ask3D features. Check 'em out!

Ken Grobe
Product Content Manager

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June 12, 2007

Morph & In-line functions: The power behind the panels

If you've been reading the Ask blog since last week's launch post, you know a little bit about Ask3D and the kinds of content it pulls up aside from your standard ten blue links.

"Okay then," You might ask, So the right-hand panel can give me content like Encyclopedia, Images, Dictionary, Recent Posts from blogs & RSS Feeds, Music Guides, News, Television, the correct time, Videos, Weather, and Songs with in-line play (just to name a few)…

"…but how does Ask3D know which content goes best with my search?"

Glad you asked.


Morph of what you want

No, Morph is not our new mascot (we're done with the mascot thing), it's our new content-matching algorithm that literally changes the results page according to your unique query.

Morph deep-dives hundreds of structured databases, taking into account not only relevance based on source signals, but also previous user behavior for your query.

It chooses among all possible content modules (a few of which we mention above). Then, it not only retrieves the most relevant content, it ranks the modules on the page depending on the topic.

Take New York Weather, for example.

Since it's very the kind of query you'd make before taking an action (planning a trip, leaving for work), Morph puts the more actionable modules--like maps and the correct time--at the top.

Morph creates this ranking from a variety of data, including:

-Relevant signals within the content (keywords, tags, freshness, etc.)

-Aggregate user behavior for your query (e.g. what other searchers clicked on when presented with these modules)

The result: you get the right information, from the right sources, in the right place, at the right time.

But does Ask 3D stop there? No, it does not.


In-line functions: Vertical search, rollovers & more

These right-panel modules aren't just content buckets. You can interact and even search within them as well.

In-page Vertical Search
Ask3D provides two ways to search deeper in a vertical without having to go back to the left-hand search box:

1. You can click the title or hit the "More" button to conduct your original query in that particular vertical channel.

2. You can do a COMPLETELY new vertical search in that module! Just click the magnifying glass icon that appears in the upper right of each unit, and the unit will convert into a search box, like so:

Thanks, AJAX technology!

Additional perks also include:

Image Mouseovers
Roll over an image thumbnail for a larger view of that image.

Video Mouseovers
A particularly cool function. Roll over a video thumbnail to see a 5-second preview, right in the page.

(Okay, a screen shot doesn't do this one justice; try it for yourself)

Music Clips
In partnership with iLike, Ask3D returns music clips for individual artists, like, for instance, the Rolling Stones.

Geo-Targeted Businesses and Event Listings
Ask3D can even give you geo-targeted information. In the mood for a doughnut? Query "doughnuts" and you'll get the stores closest to your location.

Similarly, if an artist is on tour, you'll also see local Event Listings:

Granted, you could have found for yourself how robust these cool gadgets are…but aren't you glad we told you about them instead? After all, Ask3D is all about saving you time. If you haven't already, give it a try.

Ken Grobe
Product Content Manager

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June 08, 2007

The Three Dimensions of Ask3D

Never let it be said that Ask.com search doesn't look outside the box for inspiration. When our User Experience team started thinking about how to improve Ask Web Search, they sought inspiration from a number of sources. Here's one:

Source: The National Gallery of Victoria

triptych (n.): A work consisting of three painted or carved panels that are hinged together.

How did this centuries-old presentation format inform our brand new search format? Each piece of a triptych is built so that they can be reviewed separately, but they combine to create a richer experience. We've done the same with Ask3D.

It's a three panel interface where each panel represents a different dimension of information related to your search. Put them together and you get what we think is the best search experience available: Better results--more of them above the fold, and from more and different sources--with every results page.

Let's take a panel-by-panel tour.



Left Panel

AKA the Ask3D "control panel." Scroll all you want, the search box will always stay in the top left (where, incidentally, it opens up valuable space for more search results above-the-fold).

Start typing a query-you'll automatically receive predictive search suggestions that save you keystrokes. Don't like predictive text? Disable it with a single click:

Just below that, you'll find Ask.com's famous Zoom Related Search…so you can quickly Narrow or Expand your search queries without once touching the keyboard.




Center Panel

AKA the "results" panel. Sure, it looks familiar, but you'll find a couple surprises compared to other engines:

-At the top of your results, the #1-ranked Smart Answer (structured data result) for your query.

-Fewer ads: Ask.com remains the major search engine with the fewest number of advertisements--8 per page maximum, compared to Google's & Yahoo!'s 11 per page (and that's not even counting Yahoo's Yahoo hidden "Paid Inclusion" ads, called, where sites pay per click to receive traffic from "editorial" results).




Right Panel

AKA the "content" panel. Here's where search gets fun. Here's where you find valuable content related to your search, including:

- Images
- Video
- Blogs
- News
- Weather
- Music

The content in the right rail will change according to your search query to give you the most appropriate content available. That's because Ask3D not only considers relevant signals within the content, but also bases its ranking on previous aggregate user behavior for your query, according to what other searchers found most valuable.

Essentially, it's performing dozens of simultaneous searches in one!




And it's all above the fold.

We'll drill down more on these features in subsequent posts. In the meantime,   try a search or two on the new Ask.com and see just what it is we're so proud of.

Ken Grobe
Product Content Manager

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June 06, 2007

From AskX to Ask3D

When we quietly created and launched an experimental search experience called AskX, back in December, We did it in response to the standard conventions of search: ho-hum seas of blue links no matter what the user query.

User testing shows us that the search audience has developed a new mode of speed reading across the screen. Their eyes dance down the results page as quickly as possible, mouse cursor flailing to quickly peek if the site on the other side of the click is truly meaningful. We've been calling it "Search Skim" and it implies a lot of wasted effort in every search.

This was one of the core thoughts behind today's totally revamped Ask.com search engine: there must be a better way to get users to the information they want.

After months of extensive development and testing and incorporating user feedback, we've turned AskX into Ask3D--a deeper, more vivid grasp of the big picture, helping you get better results, really fast.

The Fine Art of Surfacing

Ask3D offers that big picture by automatically "morphing" the search interface, choosing sources, ranking information, and offering tools differently for each different search you conduct. It brings the most pertinent stuff to your first results page, depending on what you're looking for. (More about this, and the "Morph" algorithm we use, in an upcoming post)

To illustrate, check out these two very different sample searches: Amy Winehouse and New York Weather.

Yep, we've still got the blue links in the center column, along with a specific Smart Answer about Ms. Winehouse above the links.

Now take a look at the right-hand column. You'll see four different content modules that reflect this search as well: results from Image search, audio search, news search, and an encyclopedia entry.

But it's not just the content that's unique. Depending on your search, you won't get the same modules every time--you'll get the ones most pertinent to your query.

Now take a look at New York Weather:

The smart answer is specific to the query (in fact, it's a weather search tool on its own):

And so are the modules to the right: Maps, images, related video, even the correct time.

In addition to standard search results, you'll receive search content specific to your query.

Ask3D is how we're doing our part to eliminate "Search Skim" and make search better and faster for everyone. Try it now and let us know what you think.

Scott Grieder & Erik Collier
Product Managers

The new Ask.com

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June 04, 2007

Introducing Ask3D - A Truly New Way to Search

For the past several years, we have been innovating furiously to provide people with a faster, easier, and richer search experience. We've created products that go some way towards this - Smart Answers, Zoom related search, Binoculars, AskCity, and ExpertRank (aka Teoma) to name a few. Over time, however, the challenge for searching the Web has grown hugely, and the sheer amount of stuff out there is mind boggling.

Today, our search experience is taking a consequential leap forward in making all that information accessible in a coherent way, with the launch of Ask3D, a completely re-engineered version of Ask.com. No, you don't need red and blue glasses to see it. 3D stands for the three dimensions of searching - query expression, investigating results, and digging deeply into content. You used to have to visit three different pages or websites to see and search through each dimension. With Ask3D, you can now get everything you need on one page…in many cases above the fold.

This isn't just about getting more information; it's also about getting the right information. Accordingly, Ask3D literally morphs with each query you enter. No two searches are the same, so why should all search pages have the same stuff in the same order? We customize each page for each different query, based on relevance, but also based on what previous searchers on Ask found valuable for that query (or one like it).

Some people who see Ask3D may initially be taken aback. It looks different than other search engines (which look curiously like they did a decade ago). Some might say there's too much going on. We feared the same thing. That's why we tested Ask3D for nearly 6 months with 5% of our 25-30 million monthly users. Simply put, these people came away happier with their experience than "regular" Ask.com users - they had lower abandonment rates, higher pick rates, and higher frequency of use.

There are also fewer ads on Ask.com than any other major search engine. That gave us more room on the page to devote to content and tools.

Keep checking the blog, as the Ask3D team will be posting this week with a deeper look into the product itself. As well as the new interface, extra things to watch out for include: a new video channel, the "morph" vertical search algorithm, TypeAhead search suggestions, geotargeted results, music clips that play straight from the results page, a modernized homepage design, plus skins to personalize your experience (my favourite is "Azul").

Design and innovation form an important part of our direction at Ask.com, and we have been privileged to have the opportunity to create an entirely new product and a richer user experience. A lot of people here gave up a good portion of their lives this year to bring it to you. We all hope that you will be genuinely wowed by it.

Here are some searches that show you what it can do:

Gwen Stefani

Lord of the Rings


--Daniel Read
VP Products and User Experience

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Batsmen, Bushes, and Boy George: June Smart Answers.

Okay, I went a little overboard with the celebrity birthdays this month. But when Angelina Jolie and Dr. Ruth share a birthday, am I supposed to let it pass unnoticed? You people deserve better than that.

And with that, let's get Smart:

Smart Answers for June Dates:

6/2: Jerry Mathers and Johnny Weissmuller
6/3: Tony Curtis, Curtis Mayfield
6/4: Angelina Jolie, Dr. Ruth Westheimer
6/5: Bill   Moyers and Kenny G. No, the other Kenny G.
6/7: Anna Kournikova and Prince
6/8: Barbara Bush, Frank Lloyd Wright
6/9: Johnny Depp, Cole Porter
6/10: Judy Garland
6/11: Jacques Cousteau, Gene Wilder
6/12: George H. W. Bush, Anne Frank
6/13: Paul Lynde in the center square.
6/14: Boy George and Donald Trump. You heard me.
6/16: Stan Laurel, Tupac Shakur
6/18: Paul McCartney
6/19: Paula Abdul, Lou Gehrig
6/20: Errol Flynn, Brian Wilson
6/21: Summer Solstice - First Day of Summer
6/22: Cyndi Lauper, Meryl Streep
6/23: June Carter-Cash
6/24: Jack empsey, Mick Fleetwood
6/25: The Korean War and George Michael both begin. Coincidence?
6/26: Abner Doubleday
6/27: Helen Keller & the Stonewall Riots
6/28: The Versailles Treaty officially ends World War I, and Mel Brooks and John Cusack were born.
6/30: Lena Horne, Mike Tyson


UK Smart Answers for June:

It's all about the Cricket over at Ask UK, what with our partnership with the England National Cricket Team, the www.ask4cricket.com site, and all the parties and prize drawings that come with that. All the more reason to show off our new Cricket Smart Answers, including:

Players. Fresh new Smart Answers for all your favorite legendary batsmen, notable off-spin bowlers, and the like.

Venues. With links to maps, directions, weather forecasts and more, you'll never get lost on the way to Headingley Cricket Ground again!

Teams. Learn about all the players, schedules, history and more.

Feeling smarter yet? Give it a minute. See you in July.

--The Ask.com Smart Answers Team

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Opinions expressed here and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors, not of IAC Search & Media and may not have been reviewed in advance.

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