What differentiates it from Google, jeeves ask a question.#Jeeves #ask #a #question

Ask.com: What differentiates it from Google?

Posted on November 15, 2006 in Web

During the Web 2.0 Summit, I got a chance

to sit down with the team at Ask.com and find out more

about their search engine. This was straight after a Summit session entitled Disruption

Opportunity: Beating Google at Their Own Game in which Ask CEO Jim Lanzone and Senior

VP of the Online Services Group at Microsoft (and ex-Ask CEO) Steve Berkowitz discussed

with John Battelle how they are competing with Google. R/WW s coverage of that

Jeeves ask a question

Letting the stats do the talking

Whenever I talk to or meet Ask.com people, I always get the feeling they are a little

pissed off at the lack of attention they get from blogs. To compensate, out come the

stats to prove how big they are. For example, they often make a point of saying that

US behind Google, Yahoo, MSN and AOL. Also, Jim mentioned during the Summit session

that Ask is the 7th

biggest web property in the US ahead of the likes of Amazon, NY Times and

So there s no doubting that Ask.com is a significant player in the Web business and

I agree they don t get their due for that. But what about the actual product the

Ask.com search engine. How does it stack up? I spoke to the team and took the search

engine for a test drive to find out

What really differentiates Ask from Google?

I asked this of the Ask.com team, in our hallway meeting at the Summit. They told me

that Ask s technology looks at the Web differently . Whereas Google s PageRank ranks its

search results by popularity, Ask has something it calls ExpertRank . Essentially this

is an automated search algorithm (like Google has), but on top of that results are

ordered using topic communities and the editorial functions that create Smart Answers .

While the ExpertRank formula is a secret sauce that Ask.com won t divulge, they do say

that the top results in searches are determined by expertise and not popularity. As it

states on their help

Identifying topics (also known as clusters ), the experts on those topics, and the

popularity of millions of pages amongst those experts at the exact moment your search

query is conducted requires many additional calculations that other search engines do

Smart Answers

I was curious to know how smart answers are determined. For a start, they don t pop

up on every search result for example a search for richard macmanus displays my

primary RSS feed at the top of the page, instead of a smart answer. The Ask team told me

that smart answers are editorially done and is a reminder of their natural language

past. If you recall, Ask Jeeves (as it used to be known before the butler was fired, er I

mean de-commissioned) started out as a search engine where you could ask a natural

language question e.g. what the heck is web 2.0? and get back a good answer. Smart

Answers is an extension of that philosophy of providing a natural language answer to a

user s search query. It does this by a combination of automated data mining and human

editorial. But the human editors don t physically write the answers, I was told rather

they act as aggregators and filters.

Jeeves ask a question

I was told that currently over 20% of Ask s entire search terms and hundreds of

categories have a Smart Answer.

Comparison of Ask with Google

If you compare Ask.com to Google, there are immediately some noticeable differences.

An obvious one is that Ask.com puts its advertisements within the main content pane,

instead of in a separate right-hand pane like Google does. So when you do a general

search in Ask, the right-hand pane is sometimes occupied by advanced search options. Also

Ask often has their smart answers (see above) at the top of the main pane. The effect

of all this is to give the user more immediately useful information and drill down

options on the first page of results. This is what Jim Lanzone meant at Web 2.0 Summit

said that Ask.com enables users to do more, faster.

Below are a couple of screenshots, showing a search on new zealand in Ask, followed

by the same query in Google:

Jeeves ask a question

Jeeves ask a question

Other Features Conclusion

Ask.com also says it does social search, but rather than rely on user tagging which

they say is only popular in niche tech circles (e.g. del.icio.us and Flickr) Ask.com

lets its algorithm do the work. It does this by breaking terms down into groups and

presenting the results to the user. If you do a

search on gardening for example, you ll see how it is broken down into multiple

Ask.com also has the usual search portal (circa 2006) features mobile, maps, news,

blogs, binoculars (page preview), etc. There are subtle differences in all of those

features when compared to Google, Yahoo and MSN. But ultimately I have to ask (pardon the

pun): is Ask.com next generation enough to challenge the big 3 plus AOL?

I do like the concept of ExpertRank and their willingness to get as much useful info

on the first page of search results as possible. It seems like an innovative approach and

certainly differentiates Ask from Google.

But when it comes down to it, the results I see aren t sufficiently different

to make me want to change. I suspect a lot of Google s 50%+ market share of users feels

the same. Ask.com is still a successful business though, even if they don t manage to

make great inroads into the market. I m sure Ask is not crying into its milk about being

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