A Conversation With Ask.com

This morning I had the chance to catch up with Daniel Read and Ryan Massie of Ask.com, as they ran around SES answering reporter and analyst questions about the site re-launch.

The site upon first glance appears to have some appealing aesthetic changes, but after a test drive (and a demo from Read, and Massie), it is much more than that. We will review the site and include a more in-depth look at the conversation in an upcoming Advisory, and a piece in next week's Local Media Journal.

For now, if you are looking for one example of an enhancement from a user perspective, check out the new mapping engine. This is fresh on my mind as we've recently completed an Advisory that compares the user experiences of the major mapping engines (not including Ask, as the release fell outside our production timeline). The Ajax-based functionality first made popular by the dynamic panning (dragable maps) in Google Maps initial launch is taken to a new level by Ask.

Users can escape the once requisite address boxes to the left and move address locations by clicking and dragging. New points on a map can be added by right clicking, and up to 10 points can be marked and directions given (both walking and driving) between them all. Now-standard satellite maps are also included, along with closer aerial images taken from airplanes (more on the new mapping features from Greg’s post earlier).

It's this kind of functionality that is a hallmark of the portal wars in gaining market share. Ask's main goal in essence is to change its image from a niche search engine where people go to ask questions every once in a while to a general engine where users go every day. In other words, it’s becoming more like Google and Yahoo! (while maintaining enough differentiated qualities to keep it unique). Jeeves' forced resignation is part of that re-branding.

It will be an uphill battle to gain search market share from the sector's current giants. But this is a good start.

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