Back in January, I wrote about Ask.com’s new user interface, AskX, then in beta (http://www.batesinfo.com/january-2007-infotip.html). Last month, a modified version of AskX was rolled out in ready-for-prime-time form on Ask.com (http://www.ask.com). It’s referred to as Ask3D; the search results page has three vertical panels and the Ask folks make a somewhat tenuous reference to Medieval triptychs in explaining the name Ask3D.
Despite its odd name, the changes to the user’s experience are virtually all for the better. The most noteworthy changes within the search results page include:
* The left-side panel includes suggestions for modifying your search and, unlike search-suggestion features elsewhere, they actually help. A search for “nanoparticles” gave me suggestions to narrow my search with “uses of nanoparticles” and “nanoparticles drug delivery”, and to broaden my search with “nanotechnology” and “nanomaterials.”
* If you click the “Advanced” link just below your query on the left-side panel, a pop-up window appears with the advanced search screen. No need to leave the search results page to revise your search with advanced search options.
* The binoculars feature (mouse over the icon of binoculars next to a search result for a thumbnail of the page) now includes information on whether the page includes pop-ups or flash, as well as the time to download the page on a 56K modem, useful for searchers who don’t have broadband access.
* The right-side panel includes results from other Ask.com specialty search features, such as images, encyclopedia entries, news, videos, and blogs. Ask is particularly proud of its ability to “morph” the right-side boxes, depending on the query. Search for “Sydney” and there are boxes along the right for the current weather and time Down Under. Search for “Sting” and there is a box with links to some of his most popular songs.
* You can click a magnifying glass icon within any of the right-side panel boxes, and execute a new search for that type of information. A magnifying glass in the Images box will search Ask Images, in the Encyclopedia box will search within a number of reference sources, and in the time or weather box will let you retrieve the time or weather in any city you specify.
* And finally, Ask provides you with a selection of “skins”, background graphics you can apply to the main Ask.com page. Click the “skins” link and select one of 10 images to have as your own customized Ask.com background.