Ask Search Getting Three Dimensional

Search engine has launched a new search interface called Ask3D, which has nothing to do with wearing cheap paper glasses and everything to do with a huge amount of information crammed on Ask’s search result page.

The front page is clean with nothing but a query box and several different properties for you to search (and for me, the ghost of a cartoon butler.) You do have the option of selecting from several available “skins”. From me to you: do not, do not, DO NOT choose the polka dots. Anyway, there’s also a pulldown that gives you quick access to a “fill in the blanks” advanced search.

I’m afraid I’m not feeling very original at the moment so I started my Web search with “Strawberry Shortcake”. As you might imagine I got over a million results. Over on the left nav I got lots and lots of choices for narrowing down my search — was I searching for coloring pages? Recipes? I also had the opportunity to expand my search (with Care Bears, Tinkerbell, or My Little Pony) or explore related searches (Hello Kitty and Rainbow Brite.) It was all so twee I had to check my blood sugar.

Desperate to get away from this 80s cuteness I decided to narrow my search down to Strawberry Shortcake Recipe. My search narrowed down to about 373,000 results, with the nav offering other ways to narrow down the search as well as different related searches (like angel food cake.) I still found myself, however, being offered coloring pages.

Have I mentioned that I like Ask search results, except for the lack of RSS feed? Many pages feature a binocular icon. Mouseover that and you’ll get a snapshot of the page. In addition you’ll also get an estimate of how long the page will take to load on a 56K modem, AND any special notes about the page, like whether it uses Flash or if it has popups. Let’s take that a step further. How about making it possible to filter out those sites which have more than x popups, or any popups at all? How about making it possible to skip sites that take more than x seconds to load on a 56K modems? For those folks who are on dialup or an otherwise slow connection, this would be a blessing (and outside of API-fueled interfaces, I can’t think of another search engine that allows you to do this.)

Ask’s search offerings per se don’t strike me as revolutionary; actually the interface, with all the extra information and suggesting topics, reminds me of Teoma circa 2002. What impresses me is how well the narrowing-down-with-suggested-topics process works (less apparent with Teoma since it had a fairly small database five years ago) and what you can do with the search results before you ever leave (via the preview and other information). Worth a look.

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