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Search Ask with a :-)
by
Posted On September 1, 2006
I was watching the U.S. Open tennis tournament on television the other night and was surprised to see an ad spot for Ask.com. My husband asked me about the search engine and said he wondered how any of the search engines compete with the seemingly omnipresent Google—the one he uses exclusively. I suggested to him it was worth trying Ask, but I strained to recall some of the excellent features recently added to the service. So, I decided to refresh both us and you.

Ask.com has been focused on increasing its Smart Answers, which it first introduced back in April 2003. Smart Answers provide key information and links to more information right at the top of the Web results page. You can get quick access to important people, company information, sports scores, movie information, weather, dictionary results, translations, conversions, and more.

Try some of these sample searches:

Search for the market capitalization of Coca Cola Co. (market cap ko): http://www.ask.com/web?q=market+cap+ko&qsrc=0&o=0.

Search for the P/E ratio for General Electric Co. (P/E ratio GE): http://www.ask.com/web?q=P%2FE+RATIO++GE&qsrc=1&o=0.

Many of the data points from the CIA's The World Factbook are now available as Smart Answers. For example, the birth rate of China can be found at http://www.ask.com/web?q=birth+rate+china&qsrc=1&o=0, while the number of Internet users in Turkey is located at http://www.ask.com/web?q=Internet+Users+turkey&qsrc=1&o=0. The latter result shows the flag of Turkey, provides the answer ("The number of Internet users in Turkey is 5,500,000"), and offers direct links to The World Factbook, the Wikipedia entry for Turkey, the country profile from the BBC, travel information from the U.S. Dept. of State, and a selection of maps. It's almost like a helpful librarian.

Ask.com has just announced that users can now search with nonalphanumeric characters. It currently offers a growing list of emoticons (aka "smileys") that can be found simply by typing the smiley into the search box. One example of a smiley is ;-), an emoticon that typically means winking (http://www.ask.com/web?q=%3B-%29&qsrc=1&o=0&l=dir). Each Smart Answer also includes links straight to a dictionary for more emoticons and other Net terms. It even offers a link to learn more about instant messaging etiquette. Ask said it is also building a set of Smart Answers for instant messaging shorthand such as BRB, LOL, and ROTFL.

This summer, Ask.com released RSS Smart Answers. If a user enters the title of a blog or feed, the blog is identified with a direct link, plus the three most current headlines from it are placed at the top of the Ask.com results page. It's actually showing the RSS feed in the results set—updated in near real time. The result for "searchblog," John Battelle's Searchblog (http://battellemedia.com) can be found at http://www.ask.com/web?q=searchblog&qsrc=1&o=0. Links to Stephen Cohen's Library Stuff blog (http://www.librarystuff.net) are located at http://www.ask.com/web?q=library+stuff&qsrc=1&o=0.

In the future, Ask plans to add this feature for RSS feeds from other information resources such as libraries. Already you can find some interesting results by trying searches for "dLIST" (an open access archive) and "new science books."

RSS Smart Answers is not the same as the fairly new and very useful Ask Blogs & Feeds Search (http://blogsearch.ask.com), which is available on the Ask.com site and the Bloglines site (which is owned by Ask). Barbara Quint wrote about this new service in a NewsBreak in June (http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb060605-1.shtml). Relying on Bloglines' input, the service indexes more than 1.5 billion posts that extend "from 2001 through 5 minutes ago (or less)," more than 2.5 million individual feeds, and 7,000 news sites. As Quint noted: "The relevancy ranking impact of Bloglines could turn out to be a critical advantage for Ask.com's Blog & Feed Search service."

Ask.com provides a wealth of information for movie buffs—this one should grab my husband's interest. A search of a movie title yields a Smart Answer for the specific film with an image of the movie poster, a brief synopsis, the MPAA rating, links to reviews, and direct links to the trailer and official movie site. There's even a ZIP code search tool that provides local theater listings with showtimes and links to purchase tickets. An even faster way is just to search with the movie title and ZIP code. (Google supplies locations and showtimes as well, but the Ask implementation seems more extensive and has a more user-friendly layout.) Now Ask has also added extensive DVD information and television data.

A feature unique to Ask is the binoculars site preview. Mousing over the binoculars icon next to a search result provides a pop-up preview of the site.

Ask has even added a special help section called "Search Better With Gary" to its site. It features our well-known friend, colleague, and librarian Gary Price (http://help.ask.com/en/docs/about/garyprice.shtml). Price's role at Ask.com is to help make search better for users and to be a resource to the Ask.com community. Kudos to Ask's management for having the understanding and vision to hire someone like Price.

By the way, in February 2006 when Ask Jeeves relaunched as Ask.com, the company officially became IAC Search & Media. It is a wholly owned business of IAC/InterActiveCorp, which purchased Ask Jeeves, Inc. in July 2005. If you haven't tried Ask.com lately, it's certainly worth checking out.


Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.


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