Today, Ask.com – the search engine that used to be called AskJeeves – is in a similar tight spot: dwarfed by competition from Google, armed with a site redesign it hopes will reorganize the online world into a far more financially favorable universe.
Ask is a lot older than Google, but its use and revenue pales by comparison.
And Ask.com truly is trying harder with a new release of its search engine that presents search results in ways that are far more accessible and user friendly than Google's.
The new Ask.com, which has just launched, presents results in a three-panel display that lets you more easily narrow your results, see relevant hits and find related material.
Given that she's just entered jail, I couldn't resist trying out the new Ask by looking up everyone's favorite socialite, Paris Hilton.
The left panel lets you expand or narrow your search and suggests related names like Nicole Richie, Carmen Electra and Jessica Simpson.
The middle panel lists the usual sites you'd expect – her official site and various sites that write about her. Like Google, it seems to be in order of relevancy and importance. Unlike Google, you don't always have to click on a link to get a clue as to what you'll find. On many links there is a little binocular to the left that you can mouse over to see a graphical preview of what's on that site.
to hear Larry Magid's podcast interview of Ask.com VP Doug Leeds.
Depending on your bandwidth, there may be a slight delay before you see the site's thumbnail but it's almost always faster than clicking on it and it does sometimes save you from wasting clicks.
In the right panel there are other key elements related to the search. In this case, images -- pictures of the hotel heiress, "news images" – photos from the AP and other sources as well as links to videos and shopping resources, should you wish to purchase "Paris Hilton-signed Calvin Klein birthday party 8x10 photo" or perhaps a Paris Hilton handbag. An orange Paris Hilton prison jumpsuit isn't online yet but I'm sure it's coming soon.
In some cases, video and audio files can be played directly from within Ask.com so you don't have to go out to another site for, say, a 30 second snippet of a song.
Much more interesting than the latest resident of the detention facility in Lynwood, California, is the other Paris – the one in France. I used Ask to look up simply Paris and got far more useful information than I did when I made the same query in Google.