Ask.com Going Back to Its Roots

Ask.com formerly Ask Jeeves, formerly all kinds of different things, announced yesterday the new Ask.com, which is currently available in “public beta.” I put that in quotes because the mention of public beta in the announcement is followed by “Now available on an invite-only basis (you can request your invite here), the capability to pose questions to real people is now possible for those complex, subjective and/or time-sensitive queries that, no matter how advanced, computers simply can’t address.” So I guess the redesign is public beta with the ability to play with the actual, y’know, NEW stuff, is available on an invitation-basis.

I must confess that when I first read this announcement my immediate reaction was the overwhelming desire to slag Ask.com. And I do not normally slag. But Ask.com has been goofing around with revamps and changes and overhauls and etc for years, and strangely, it seems like nothing substantive ever happens. And this invite-only foldelrol for the new community question feature. Dear Ask.com — lose the invite-only status as soon as possible, because if you don’t do something quick nobody is going to care. Nobody NEEDS to care anymore about asking questions at Ask. They’re too busy using Quora and Aardvark and Facebook and LinkedIn and even Twitter to ask questions. Open up and quick, or it’s not going to matter at all.

And finish what you start! Over a year ago — a year ago — I wrote about Ask.com’s announcement of its AnswerFarm technology, which was supposed to be a return to its question-answering roots. At that time the new technology had 300 million question and answer pairs. Today Ask.com is touting 500 million pairs for what I assume is the same technology. And then a few months ago, I wrote about Ask.com’s related questions, which weren’t too bad except for a some inappropriate words. It just seems like Ask announces these similar things over and over again, but nothing actually clicks into place, or makes a dent, or changes perspectives, or happens.

Of course despite the snarkiness here I did ask for an invite to the new community question service (I’ve been writing about Ask for over a dozen years, and I’ll probably continue until it either shuts down or vanishes from the search mainstream ala LookSmart.) And because I think that the evolution of searching — or rather, finding — depends on integrating human knowledge and intelligence with vast oceans of data, I hope that Ask’s Q&A service survives to contribute to the social search evolution.

But please, Ask, get on with it. And keep it up.

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