After a three year absence Jeeves is back at Ask, or at least the UK version. Jeeves was retired in March 2006 and Ask started doing some really interesting work on the interface, content and presentation of results in both their UK and US version. See http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/category/ask/ for my previous postings about Ask. Over the last year, though, they have ditched just about every useful and innovative feature. I have stopped recommending it as a Google alternative in my Advanced Search workshops and don’t even bother with the their blog and feeds search, which is still quite good. To get to the blog search you now have to carry out a general web search on the homepage and then on the results screen click on More and select blogs. It is below TV Listings and Recipes!
They have reintroduced the Questions and Answers section but to be honest Google gives results for searches formatted as questions that are as good as, if not better, than Ask’s. And as for the Question of the Day on the home page… I really do not want to know which celebrities are pregnant.
Ask claims that Jeeves is back by popular demand but, like Phil Bradley, it looks to me like a pathetic attempt to win back users. I fear that they are doomed to failure unless they radically improve their search results.
Ask (http://news.ask.com/) has updated it news service to ‘Big News’. Search results look very much like Ask’s web search with an option to narrow by category and suggestions on other types of resources you might like to view such as images, profiles and encyclopedia entries. In addition you can filter the sources by region for example Europe, Middle East, Oceania. Results are automatically sorted by relevance, and stories about the same topic or event are clustered together. You can, if you wish, choose to sort your results by date.
The most obvious change, though, is the numeric “Big Factor” ranking that appears next to each groups of stories or event. This analyses four aspects of the event:
- Breaking: timeliness of a story, with more weight given to breaking news
- Impact: the story’s impact across the web, which includes references in articles, multimedia, and blogs
- Media: the number of images and videos associated with the story
- Discussion: how much buzz a current event is generating in forums and other discussion areas
Scores range from 1-100 and you can display a graph of the relative importance of each of the factors by moving your cursor over the score. Click on the score and Ask displays the news articles, blogs, images and videos related to the event. I am finding this a really useful feature and a quick way of identifying videos of news and interviews on the story. If you want to monitor this particular story, click on the “Track” link that is part of the Big Factor score icon and you can add the RSS feed to your favourite feed reader. If you want regular updates on your entire search, at long last you can have an RSS feed on that as well.
The lack of RSS alerts has been the main reason why I have not regularly used Ask News in the past, but the availability of feeds plus the innovative features they have now introduced have convinced me to add them to my main collection of current news sources. A long time coming but well worth the wait. I do have one niggle – don’t I always?!- Big News is only available on the .com site. The UK site has the same old interface and results: I have to remember to enter news.ask.com as the URL. As with other developments and new features that they have introduced, I hope that they will roll this one out onto the UK site soon.
Ask has rolled out its new interface on both its .com and .co.uk sites. It is essentially Ask X (see my earlier posting) but Ask appear to have listened to comments on the Ask X minimalist home page. They have brought back the web, images, news and blogs tabs so you can quickly go those sections rather than having to a general search first. Video and shopping options can be added to the list or you can browse all of the categories. There is also a direct link to the Advanced Search options.
Ask has gone for personalisation in a big way: you can choose a ‘skin’ from a selection of 11 (I have chosen Golden) and there is a My stuff link in the upper right hand corner. My stuff includes your recent searches (if you have chosen to record them), saved results, my folders and my tags. As you type in your search terms, Ask comes up with suggestions as you type. If you find this irritating you can easily disable it.
The results page is very similar to Ask X. The left hand panel includes a search box together with suggestions to Narrow and Expand your search, and Related Names if you searched on a person. On the right hand side of the screen are sample results from other types of resources including video, news, images, blogs, dictionaries and encyclopaedias.
The middle panel contains your search results. Hover over an entry in the list and an icon with green plus sign pops up. Click on this and you can save it to a folder of your choice and tag it in my “My stuff”. Tags are separated by spaces and multi-term tags have to be enclosed in double quotes, for example “climate change”. When you have added a page to “My stuff” the green cross change to a red tick, but the pages are not recognised if they appear in a subsequent search so you could end up saving duplicate pages.
Overall, I like the new Ask especially the way it offers information from different types of resources on the results page. There are still some glitches that need attention: my search history does not appear to be working even though it is switched on, and it would be helpful if it recognised pages that you have already saved.
Ask.com has just automatically redirected me to what seems to be a test version of a new interface called Ask X. My first impression of the Spartan home page is that I do not like it at all. The menu of search options – news, images, blogs and feeds etc. – that normally appears on the right hand side of the screen has gone. All you have is a single search box. Phil Bradley and I have already argued the case for leaving tabs such as these on the home page with Accoona, who very quickly restored them. As with Accoona, I do not want to have to do a two step process to carry out, for example, a blog or news search. Some of the options for the other resources reappear on the results page, but to have to carry out an ‘all’ search first annoys me.
Today’s Ask X home page
I do like the three panel results screen, though. The left hand panel includes a search box together with links to some of the specialist resources, and the Zoom options (Narrow, Expand, Related Names). It also contains search suggestions that change as you type.
The middle panel contains your search results and on the right panel there are sample results from other types of resources including video, news, images, blogs and encyclopedia. For those who do not think beyond standard web page searching they are a reminder of other, possibly more relevant forms of information.
Ask X results screen
Ask Jeeves Investor Relations: “Ask Jeeves Introduces Zoom and Web Answers”
I’ve been playing around with both of these for about an hour this afternoon trying to get a feel for how and if these work.
Zoom (subtitled Concept Navigation) “offers suggestions to narrow and refine your search (“zooming in”), or expand your search (“zooming out”) to explore new ideas.” The Zoom suggestions should appear on the right hand side of your results page. I found that if you carry out a fairly precise search such as my ‘gin vodka sales UK’ test search, nothing appears in the Zoom section. A search on ‘climate change’, though, suggests that I might like to narrow my search to global warming, global warming causes, global warming impact etc. Alternatively, it suggests I could expand my search using strategies such as Kyoto Protocol, Ice Age theory.
The new Web Answers claims to extend “Ask Jeeves’ direct-answering abilities by mining unstructured data in real time.” This part of Ask Jeeves is apparently triggered by questions, phrases or keywords for example “how….”. “what…..”. I tried what I thought was a straightforward question – how fast can a hippopotamus swim?
It did not help that the top five results were sponsored web results for swimwear and swimsuits at M&S (Marks and Spencers – a UK based retailer). 10 minutes later and when I had stopped laughing I found that none of the “real” links gave me an answer and the Zoom option to narrow my search suggested two queries: how many bones does a hippopotamus have and how fast can a hippopotamus run. Wikipedia comes up with a possible and credible answer straight away.
“Why is the grass green”, a test search suggested to me by Neil Infield, did not do much better until I had worked through two levels of the Zoom searches. The first results were offering me lawn care services, grass seed and astro turf.
In conclusion, I found Zoom to be a useful additional tool. If it does not appear next to your results list then that suggests you are already running quite a precise search. As for Web Answers – pass me that hippo sized swimsuit, I’ve obviously had too many gin and vodka cocktails:-)
Ask Jeeves Blog: The Future of Search Arrives: Introducing The Jeeves9000 (BETA)
Ask Jeeves has joined in the April 1st spate of beta launches with their Jeeves9000 humanoid search robot. The claim is that this is a product that is both cool and useful. Forget about web search, Jeeves9000 can do really important things like operate light switches, door knobs, and garage door openers. “This innovation brings search to previously unimaginable levels of relevance, speed, and ease of use.”
“The Jeeves9000 will initially retail for $399.99. We will also introduce a free, ad-supported model, which will spontaneously offer product demonstrations on behalf of our sponsors.”