The laggard in the search space is hoping to regain its former luster with a design make-over and more relevant results.
Fourth place search engine Ask.com unveiled on June 5 a dramatically redesigned interface aimed at distinguishing both its appearance and results from competitors Google, Yahoo and Live.com.
The new interface, dubbed Ask3D, presents query answers in a three-panel screen that includes standard links to content as well as lists of related results from blogs, video, news, photo and shopping sites.
"You used to have to visit three different pages or Web sites to see and search through each dimension," said Daniel Read, vice president of products and user experience. "With Ask3D, you can now get everything you need on one page ... in many cases above the fold."
According to Read, Ask3D stands for the three dimensions of searchingquery expression, investigating results and digging deeply into content.
Ask.com currently controls about 5 percent of the global search market, while Google, Yahoo and Live.com respectively control 60, 25 and 9 percent, according to comScore.
The changes to Ask come at a time when all the major search engines are trying to make their results more appealing and relevant to users. Last month, for example, Google unveiled universal search, which intersperses results from different types of mediavideo, news, images, etc.within a results page.
While both Google and Asks new features attempt to make sense of differing types of content, Asks new interface is a more drastic change from the traditional single column of results.
The changes to Asks interface begin at the query line, where Ask prompts users with input suggestions. Type "open so" for example, and Ask prompts you with "open source," "open source software," and "open source downloads," among others. (Google offers a similar feature, albeit on a separate page from its main interface, called Google Suggest.)
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The query page itself presents three panels. The leftmost panel offers options to narrow and expand your search, and offers a list of names related to your topic. (Linus Torvalds is listed on the open source page, for example.)
The middle panel lists the main results. The rightmost panel offers images, news images and Wikipedia information. When you scroll down the results, the left panel remains static.
According to Read, Ask tested the new interface with a small subset of users for five months before it was deployed.
In the coming weeks and months, Ask also plans to introduce a new video channel, type-ahead search suggestions, geotargeted results, music clips that play from the results page, and skins to personalize the search experience.
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