Monday, 4th June 2007
Ask.com Debuts Ask 3D: Say Hello to Morph Technology
Some major news from Ask.com today. Because Gary is a member of the Ask.com team, like we've done in previous situations our overview post is available by clicking the link below.
Ask.Com Launches Ask 3D: A Users Guide and a Few Thoughts
by Gary Price
UPDATE: On Wednesday, June 7th, Ask 3D also became available on Ask.co.uk
Since I began at Ask.com in February of 2006, we've launched several new services. Today's news, without a doubt, is the most exciting thing (at least for me) since I joined the company. Why, it's MUCH MORE THAN a new interface, it's a major re-engineering of the entire product. What follows is a brief introduction. I've done my best, given the nature of the post, to keep my opinions light. Most are in the conclusion. The goal here is to offer you both a simple users guide and perhaps a few "fast facts" and tips that might not be mentioned elsewhere.
3D and Morph
Today's release builds on AskX that has been online as a prototype since last December. In the past six months the response to AskX has been very positive during presentations I’ve given to librarians and non-librarians alike.
3D stands for the three pane view that a searcher sees when they get to a search results page.
Window 1 is where the user interacts with the search box and expresses their query. Ask.com now offers type-ahead search suggestions along with Zoom Related Results that offer suggestions to narrow, expand, and in some cases, suggest related names. Zoom Related Results used to be found on the right side of the page.
Window 2 offers results, Ask.com Smart Answers, Smart RSS, and more.
Window 3 is where the searcher will find content from other specialty search/verticals, etc. I think it's easy for the info pro to see the variety of information that can be made available here.
The Ask "Morph" algorithm looks at the search query and based on its words and context, provides not only web results but a variety of results from disparate info sources.
Breaking it Down
Ok, now with that background in mind, let's take a brief tour. Let's begin on the home page.
The default "skin" is crisp and clean with a splash of color. However, if that skin doesn't work for you, Ask offers about 10 skins. You can preview them without having to load them by just clicking the "skins" link and from drop down menu placing your cursor next to the skin name. You'll see a preview image of each skin. In future releases look for an option for users to create their own skins. Bottom line, independent of skin, the home page loads quickly.
The home page offers buttons for several search types. Click the button and the color of the search box changes. A useful visual cue. Also, note the image in each box, is consistent through to result pages, specifically in the third window. Again, a useful visual cue for some.
The Buttons and Search Options
+ Ask City
+ AND a link to find video search, maps & directions, and shopping search. Also, note that each search has an icon associated with it. This icon is consistent throughout the entire product.
One thing we know is that for many, web search and the web search box is it. Period. Ask 3D offers not only web results but so much more. In its own way, it can serve as a training tool to alert users that these "focused" databases (aka vertical or specialty databases) exist in the first place.
Try a search for The Beatles.
Let's review the results page.
First, in the left box you'll see Zoom-related results (narrow, expand, related names, when applicable). Btw, Zoom-Related Results are available with web search, image search, and video search.
If you begin another search, suggestions will begin appearing as you begin entering letters. Clicking more offers more suggestions, simply click to run the search.
Second, in the middle box, you'll find The Beatles "Smart Answer" at the top with direct links to several key reference tools as well as “organic” search results below it. These results use the Teoma algorithm.
Third, in the right box, you'll see results from various databases. Like I said before, this is just the beginning of what we hope to offer in this space. Remember, what appears here is based on your query and the morph technology.
This third window (or right rail for some) is where some other web engines place sponsored results. Ask.com uses this very visible page "real estate" for results from various verticals.
+ Images (from the Ask.com Image Database)
+ News Images (recent imagery from news sources)
+ Event Listings (is Beatle tribute band playing nearby?)
+ Listen. Click the arrow and listen to a preview of the song, click the title and go to a social network, iLike, for music info and sharing.
So, it's web results and a whole lot more. Once again, what you see on a results page in addition to web results (or another type of result, depending where you begin your query) is different for every search. That’s the morph technology selecting the best specialty databases (verticals) for your search query. The possibilities are endless and will also expand over time.
Now, we're not going to spend the space and your time (go explore!) to go over each type of search. So, here are some fast facts and tips that might be of value to you as you explore on your own.
Facts and Tips
+ The popular Ask Binoculars feature has been enhanced. Now, just cursor over the binoculars icon and you'll see a larger image along with page load times (useful for those still on dial-up) and text to alert you if the page contains Flash and/or pop-ups.
+ The third pane on a results page not only shows a few results and a link to get more but if you move your cursor near the title at the top of the box, look for the magnifying glass. Click. Now, without reloading the page, you have a search box to run a COMPLETELY NEW search for that type of info without having to go to a new page.
+ Ask.com's Smart RSS is also improved for some results. For example, search DocuTicker from the Web search box and you'll still find inline results (the last three posts) from the blog. New, with one click you can subscribe to the feed (for many feeds) directly from this point using one of several services.
+ + If you run a web search and the query suggests you’re looking for images, inline images will appear at the top of the web search results. Ask.com has offered inline images for years (since April 2003 to be precise). Ask is now slowly expanding this feature. A few examples? Sure. If you search, "logos of Boston Red Sox" from the web search box, you'll see several logos atop the web results. Click the image link and go directly into the image database for more. Enter “lion sculptures” or a favorite, “watercolors of flowers.” Remember, just click the link above the images and you’re directly into the image database for more. These are just a few examples of what's available with many more to come.
+ Images and news images found in the third window can be enlarged a bit by simply placing your cursor over them.
+ Run a video search or find video results in the right window. Place your cursor over it and view a few seconds of the video.
+ Run a search and look for the “Advanced” link right below the search box. With one click the advanced page appears. Click again and it’s gone.
+ Want to save a URL and page info to the Ask.com "My Stuff" service. Simply place your cursor near the title and look for the green "Save to My Stuff" icon. Click and the info is saved.
+ Finally, a few weeks ago I mentioned that Ask City now allows you to mark up a page with various shapes and then search within the shape. Now, when you create a shape on an Ask City map, when you click the magnifying glass, you'll also see the distance/perimeter of what you what to search inside.
One More Thing
As an info professional who works at a major search engine, I would be happy to listen to your comments and pass them along to the right people. My time at Ask.com has seen many of you share your views. Thank you and keep them coming. Want more info, just ask. :-)
Final Thoughts and a Few Views
Why am I positive about Ask 3D?
+ Easy to use for both power searchers and new users alike.
+ Potential to save all users time, effort, and aggravation.
+ Results pages and the additional content is specific to your search (morph technology).
+ Provides easy access to content that might be missed elsewhere.
+ Offers a solid framework for Ask.com to add more source and tools in the future.
The best way to get to know Ask 3D, like many databases, is to spend some time with it. Have fun. Of course, this is opening day for Ask 3D. So, if you find a few glitches, slowdowns, etc., give Ask.com a bit of time to get them all ironed out.
See Also: John Battelle on Ask 3D
See Also: Paula Hane on the InfoToday Blog
Inside Google's Nathan Weinberg
This post also includes a 22 minute video tour of Ask 3D.
See Also: Rafe Needleman at Webware
See Also: Greg Sterling at Search Engine Land