April 30, 2010

Testing a New Homepage

Some of you may have noticed a few changes to our homepage recently as we've recently started testing new versions of our site that highlight our focus on Q&A.  As part of the test we are more prominently featuring the Question of the Day and three popular questions.  The promotional units we introduced in January have proven popular with partners such as Autism Speaks, Avatar, Best Buy, Chili's, and Susan G. Komen for the Cure and so we created a 300x250 ad unit that will allow for larger and more interactive advertisements for our users without diminishing their experience.  You'll also notice some other changes including a new background hue that you can customize by installing one of the themes from the gallery.  In the header we have added links to our Web, Images, and Videos services.  As we mentioned in November, we are focused on providing the best question answering service available; the new design will allow us more flexibility to offer new features that we are hard at work on and hope to share more information about in the near future.  If you haven't yet seen the changes don't worry, you will soon.  Let us know what you think of the new design and stay tuned for more to come!

Tony Gentile

SVP, Product

A14 clean


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January 03, 2008

Ask.com Mobile: Voice-Activated Directions Show You the Way

We talk a lot around here about the Mobile Web and making mobile search faster, better. Admittedly, it's easy to get excited about the different features and capabilities of all the new pimped out devices, but at the core every mobile phone does one thing inherently well: transmit the human voice.

I am excited about our first step in integrating voice with Ask.com Mobile. Today, we've added a new option to our Directions service called Click to Speak. The feature lets Ask.com Mobile users enter addresses by speaking instead of keying them in. With just a click, users can activate a voice activated directions service and within seconds receive a text message with a link to directions.

The new capability incorporates technology from our East Bay neighbors, Dial Directions.

Here's how the new feature works:

1) Use your web-enabled mobile device to go to Ask.com (either http://www.ask.com or http://m.ask.com).

Step 1

2) Click the "Directions" link on the home page and click the "SPEAK your address" option.

Step 2

3) Hit the continue button to start the call and follow the voice prompts to speak your location and destination. You can use specific addresses or intersections.

Step 3

4) Almost instantly you will receive a text message with a link to your directions. You can view them in either a traditional list mode or turn-by-turn step format complete with visual cues.  You can also toggle between "driving" and "walking" routes.

It's that easy. No more mis-typing an address while on your way to that important business meeting! No more typing with your thumbs while trying to find your friend's birthday party!

Intrigued? Check out the video:

Ask Mobile with Dial Directions

Or better yet, try it out yourself.

Brendan Hallett
Product Manager
Ask.com Mobile

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December 27, 2007

5 Questions with Ask Italy's Antonio Gulli

"Pisa?" I've had friends react, "Why do you guys have an office in Pisa?" As easy as it would be to joke about frequent "business" trips to Tuscany, I was curious myself. So I corralled the head of the Pisa office, our Director of Advanced Search Projects Antonio Gulli, for an e-mail interview. He sent back answers liberally sprinkled with links from Ask products, including News and Image Search, to which the Pisa folks are major contributors.

By the way, if you're an engineer and want to go to work in a 14th century Tuscan palace, start learning Italian now.

1. So, Antonio. What are the advantages of Ask having an office in Pisa?

Pisa has one of the most prestigious Engineering and Computer Science Universities in Europe. Therefore, Ask has access to much talent for both our local and remote offices. In addition, Pisa is located in Tuscany, a region loved by many people for the food, the wine, and the quality of life. Pisa is connected with New York JFK by a 7-hour direct flight and the airport is 20 minutes walking distance from the office.

2. Italy's a center for computer engineering? How'd that come about?

Well, for the record, the first University of Pisa was founded back in 1343! Long time ago. But the history of Pisa as center for computer engineering goes back to 1954. That's when Pisa University, on the advice of the Nobel laureate Enrico Fermi, decided to design and construct a computer intended entirely for scientific use--the first in Italy. The University of Pisa's Computer Science course curriculum back in the 1960s was Italy's first.

Pisa also hosted one of the first Internet connections in Italy--and one of the first 50 WWW servers in the world--back in 1986. Nowadays, Pisa has three different universities: Pisa University System, Scuola Normale Superiore and the Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies.

3. Does the Pisa office have a particular role at Ask.com?

Our office was a key contributor for Ask Image Search, Ask AP Image Search, and Ask Blog search. Currently, we're collaborating with the other offices on upcoming Ask Search products.

4. Are your employees only from Italy?

No, we also have staff from other European countries like France, Lithuania and Hungary.

5. Where do you find your engineers? (Don't give away any trade secrets ;-)

We've hired many talented people from University. Being from a company that people know makes recruitment much easier ;-) Of course, another good reason why they come and work for Ask.com Pisa is our location. Here's some new photos:

Our office is the former Palace Gambacorti, on Corso Italia (literally "Italy Avenue"). Built in the 14th century, it was the home of the Gambacortis, Pisa's most powerful family. Henry VII stayed in the palace, as did Charles IV of Luxembourg. The new office is GORGEOUS even for Italian standards.

He ain't kidding. Check out these photos:

Told you.

Ken Grobe
Product Content Manager

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December 20, 2007

The Year in Ask: 2007

A roller coaster of a year, all told, what with introducing a company-changing product (or two), some industry initiatives, and of course, some sort of Google thing. Plenty of great stuff to look back on. What sort of stuff, you might ask?



We got caught up in the robots.txt revolution side-by-side with Yahoo! and the Google.


Ask UK and Fallon took it to the streets of London with a secret, then not-so-secret viral campaign that resulted in one million new users in three months.



We scored the Webby Award for best mobile site AND the People's Voice Webby in the Mobile category. Doug Leeds' five-word acceptance speech: "San Dimas Highschool Football RULES!"


The tangy wholesomeness of Ask Mobile met the great tastes of Citysearch, Evite, and even a GPS service. Mobilicious.



Our big moment of 2007--swapping out our previous results page design with a three-column triptych that nestles content and media results right in next to the blue links.



For SES in our backyard, we came out in force, with multiple speakers, a big ol' booth, a Jim Lanzone keynote interview and a party where someone's arm got broken. Or sprained, I forget. I liveblogged SES SJ 2007, as did, oh, everyone else there.

SES 2007 San Jose Day One, Two, Three.


The University of Michigan gave us top marks in their American Customer Satisfaction Index. Which ain't hay.




On the plus side, The entire UK can now take advantage of our 3D-ified Maps & Directions. On the minus side, our London staff no longer has an excuse to be late for work.


Proof that if you have a good product, all you need to do is show it at work. The Ron Popeil philosophy paid off with great response & word-of-mouth.



We agreed to continue running Google Sponsored Listings on our network; in return, we opened up a briefcase the size of a couch and told Google, "Fill it." That's not how it happened but I like to think it was.



We announced our plans to do it back in July. And in December, we walked the walk and gave users control over their search privacy. A great way to round out the year.

Thanks to everyone for their support this year, and stick around--you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Ken Grobe
Product Content Manager

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July 09, 2007

For Ask3D Power Users

If you're looking to get the most out of Ask3D, you should know all the tools. We've already covered our home page, our three-panel results screen, and our right-rail filled with vertical content and in-line functions. But wait, there's more…

Binoculars 2.0

As tech columnist Walt Mossberg noted the other day, We've taught our popular site preview tool some new tricks. Our binoculars window is 50% larger, 50% faster, and there's more of them, so they show up--all together now--50% more often.

What's more, it gives you more than just a visual preview. Within each binocular, you'll find these three pieces of info about that Web site:

- Number of pop-ups on the Web site
- Whether or not the site is Flash-based
- How fast/slow the site takes to load on a 56k connection

"Freeze" Your Search Results to Make Changes

Any good searcher knows that real power searching is done by performing advanced searches, modifying your search preferences, and saving searches that really hit the mark. The problem's always been that you usually have to click away to do any of these things-or set them up before you even start searching. That means you'd waste loading a new page, clicking the "back" button, or worse, starting your search all over again.

Until now. With Ask3D, you can change your preferences, do an advanced search, or add your search results to MyStuff without leaving the page you're on.

For example, click the "Options" link in the top corner of the Left Panel, and a new window will show up on top of your search results, "freezing" them until you change your preferences. You don't waste any time loading a new page. Once you finish changing those settings, your results will "unfreeze" and you can continue on your way.

And that, in six simple blog posts (1 2 3 4 5 6), is the new Ask3D.

Ask3D--the Audio Nutshell

Want the entire lowdown on Ask3D while you drive or go to the gym? Webmaster Radio did a podcast interview with Daniel Read, Ask.com's VP of Site Product Management & User Experience, that covers the whole megillah. Click here to get it.

Hopefully, by this time, you've tried a search or two. If not, what are you waiting for?

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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March 23, 2007

The Local Authorities: Drilling Down 2007

If you're involved in local search, chances are you know about the Kelsey Group's Drilling Down conference. This year's activities included a couple of Ask.com appearances, a keynote speech from IAC's Peter Horan and a panel discussion featuring AskCity's Ryan Massie.

Copyright© 2007 The Kelsey Group.
Plus, between panels we hijacked a vendor's display equipment to do a quick AskCity demo and impressed the heck out of them. All in all, a strong Ask.com showing this year.


Peter used his keynote speech to offer the big-picture take on local search and how AskCity exemplifies that. A pair of highlights:

1. The first decade of local content was about brand; the next decade will be about relevance. Live in San Jose? Look to the SJ Mercury News site. Live in Los Angeles? Try the LA Times. No more. Now, users are looking beyond brands for quality content--no matter where it comes from.

2. Local content exists between two extremes:

- Broad subject matter relevant to a large audience (e.g. a trend piece from The New York Times or local news)

- Narrow subject matter relevant to specific needs (e.g. local bloggers, user reviews, "where can I find a dry cleaner open Sundays?"

Peter finished up with a quick presentation of AskCity, showing how it leverages top online brands and deep content sources like Citysearch and recent acquisition InsiderPages to create relevant local search.



(Panel included Ryan Massie, Ask.com Director of Product Management, Vertical Products)

Ryan stood out in his panel (among reps from Judy's Book, The Bakersfield Californian, Outside.In, and local data vendor Urban Mapping) largely by being the only search-driven site on the panel. And while there was no agreed-upon definition of what "Hyperlocal" meant (Facilitator Peter Krasilovsky dismissed the term with a "we all know what we're talking about, right?"), most of the panelists had the same measurement for success: ad sales. Ryan countered that AskCity's yardstick is quite different.

"When someone comes to that search box," He explained, "and we give them exactly what we want--the right result, the right content, take them to the right page--they're going to come back. That's success." He explained. "Or to take action on AskCity--to book (a dinner reservation) on OpenTable, and then to come back again--that's success too." He also mentioned that AskCity had no specific plans to include ads, but didn't rule it out.


Ken Grobe
Product Content Manager

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February 26, 2007

Ask.com's Google Pen Service Restored

After our Google Pen issues a couple of weeks ago, we thought you folks might be interested in a package we received recently...

...and the letter that came with it:

Thanks, Google!

--The Ask.com Team

Related post:
The Latest Google Flatline

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February 05, 2007

The Latest Google Flatline

Talk about your coincidences. No sooner did we read Nick Gonzalez's Google Flatlines Again article in Techcrunch than we had a Google product let us down as well:

February 2, 2007: Google Pen Runs Out.

Scott Grieder, Ask.com Group Product Manager, was taking notes on an important conference call when his Google Pen ran out of ink without warning. The lapse in this fundamental Google product/service forced him to switch pens at a critical moment, resulting in considerable inconvenience and loss of data.

"I should have known better than to use a free Google product for business purposes." Scott told us in a recent interview. "Google Pen is fine for home use, but not when my company's productivity is on the line. I had to switch pens in the middle of taking notes. There's no telling how much data I lost."

Below is a screenshot showing the sudden drop in productivity as a result of the Google Pen flatlining:

The barrel and cartridge of the pen are transparent, allowing the user to see inside the pen, and presumably determine when Google Pen will run out of ink. But due to possibly sub-par materials, the ink stains the inside of the clear cartridge, giving the impression that the pen still has plenty of ink.

"Now I have to apply all my current behaviors and processes to another pen," Grieder explained. "How long will that take? I used to trust Google to stand behind their products. I guess I was wrong."

He added, "Thanks a lot, Google Pen. I guess you get what you pay for."

--The Ask.com Team

UPDATE: It's working again. Turns out there was ink in it after all. Thanks to Matt Cutts who suggested we "try shaking it a lot."

UPDATE: It just ran out again.

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December 01, 2006

Ask.com at SES Chicago 2006

Even as we write this, a handful of Ask.com notables are preparing to wing their way to Chi-town for the Search Engine Strategies 2006 Conference & Expo, to join their fellow searcherati in sub-freezing temperatures. If you're looking for the Ask.com presence at SES, you'll find it at these panels:

James Speer, VP Marketing and Products, IAC Advertising Solutions, Ask.com
  Tuesday, December 5, 2006
  TOPIC: Meet the Search Ad Networks, 4:30pm-5:45pm

Paul Vallez, Director, Product Management, Ask.com
  Wednesday, December 6, 2006
  TOPIC: Auditing Paid Listings & Click Fraud Issues, 2:00pm-3:15pm

Vivek Pathak, Infrastructure Product Manager, Ask.com
  Wednesday, December 6, 2006
  TOPIC: Social Search Overview, 9:00am-10:15am

  Thursday, December 7, 2006
  TOPIC: Meet the Crawlers, 9:00am-10:15am
  TOPIC: Search Engine Q&A On Links, 10:45am-12:00pm

Be sure to come by after the panels and say hello. And for pity's sake take a jacket! You know how we worry.

--The Ask.com Team

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