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James Fallows Likes Ask.com

James Fallows likes Ask.com, formerly Ask Jeeves:

James Fallows: Worth checking out: the new Ask.com: I love Google. Everyone loves Google. But I’ve also had a long secret fondness for Ask.com, nee AskJeeves.

The original AskJeeves concept of trying to figure out what questions users might eventually ask, and preparing answers for them, had some obvious limitations. (Same ones that are evident in the typical FAQ file.) But over the last year or two Ask’s search system has introduced enough features and tweaks to be worth visiting along with Google. For instance, I’ve found that its image search gets more quickly to what I’m looking for than most alternatives.

Recently Ask rolled out the new search page it has been working on for quite a while. Early this year I saw some of the features in embryonic form, during a visit to my friend Yumin Liang and his research team in Hangzhou, China. (Subject for another time: the shift of some “real” research work by international firms, not just “localization” work for the Chinese-language audience, to sites in China.)

These features, and more, are now available on the revamped Ask.com site. The crucial concept here is presenting a lot of different kinds of information on one screen. You search for, say, the Atlantic Monthly on Ask, and you get pretty quickly a central column of normal search results. But over the next few seconds the rest of the page fills in. On the right side of the page, images, blog links, encyclopedia entries. On the left, ways to narrow or expand your search — narrow it by asking about the magazine’s history, expand it by also learning about, say, the New Yorker. It’s worth giving a try.