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Can Ask.com's New Search Strategy Work?

Ask.com hopes it's found the answer to increasing its market share -- and no, the plan doesn't involve a butler named Jeeves

By Jr Raphael, PC World
July 27, 2010 07:51 PM ET

PC World - Ask.com hopes it's found the answer to increasing its market share -- and no, the plan doesn't involve a butler named Jeeves.

The fourth-place search engine has just announced a new site that focuses on Q&A-based queries. Rather than relying solely on the Web, the updated Ask.com combines real user interaction with standard Internet search to help you find the info you need.

Of course, the real question: Will it be enough to lure people away from Google?

Ask.com's New Search Concept

If Ask.com's new search concept has you feeling a sense of déjà vu, you're not alone: Back when the site first launched as Ask Jeeves, it had a similar question-oriented focus. This time, however, the power of the people is a core part of the equation.

Here's how it works: You type a question into the Ask.com home page and click "Search." The site returns a list of Web-based answers and then, in the new twist, provides you with a button to "ask the community," too.

Clicking this link allows you to fine-tune your question and list a series of keywords to help the system categorize the query. If you're asking about cookie recipes, for example, you might use keywords like "baking," "cookies," and "recipes." Ask.com would then route your question to other users who have indicated they're experts in those areas.

Me, I'm not so interested in baking. What I want to know is what that crazy cat Jeeves is up to these days. I asked the Ask.com community, but unfortunately, I didn't get much response -- in fact, my question appeared to be deleted shortly after I asked it. (For what it's worth, I've heard Jeeves was recently spotted working as a lifeguard in Kentucky.)

Once I switched to slightly more serious questions, Ask.com's new community search started giving me some answers. I asked the search engine a handful of things, ranging from the easy-to-answer ("What's the best way to get a six-pack?") to the philosophical ("What's the meaning of life?") and even the confusingly self-contradictory ("How do you ask a question on Ask.com?").

After about an hour, I had seven answers total, all of them honest attempts at addressing my queries. (I'm sad to say no one took a shot at the meaning of life, though one person did attempt to tell me how to ask a question on the site where I had just asked my question.) Looking at other users' submissions, my results seem pretty typical: Most recent queries had zero to four responses when I was signed in.

Now, to be fair, Ask.com's new community answer feature is still in limited-access beta -- according to the site, only about 13,000 people are signed up so far -- so the number of answers is sure to increase as the service opens up further. (You can request an invite here.) But there's enough going on now to get a general idea of what Ask's new search strategy is all about, and what it could potentially bring to the table.

Evaluating Ask's Search Strategy

Ultimately, it's hard not to think of the new Ask.com community search section as a glorified Yahoo Answers: You have a bunch of people asking random questions, and a bunch of other people attempting to answer them. Ask.com's take on user Q&A may be a bit smarter than some of its competition -- the site's "proprietary Q&A matching technology" supposedly routes your question to the best possible community experts, or at least the people who list themselves as experts in any given subject -- but it's still ultimately a user-generated Q&A site.

Originally published on www.pcworld.com. Click here to read the original story.

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