Ask.com has relaunched its search engine with a new emphasis on quality grouping based on likely related topics.
The new engine is said to have been rebuilt from the ground up, with traditional results being displayed with “structured” sources of data in certain categories like entertainment, health and jobs. Questions will also be answered through the delivery of results from Answers.com and Yahoo Answers.
Ask.com's Jim Safka told the NY Times that the new Ask.com "is faster and returns more relevant results for common queries than in the past" and that “Some of the best content is coming from individuals, not necessarily from professional publishers,” which is good news for bloggers and other small scale web publishers.
The grouping works. A search for Angelina Jolie starts with a short bio, pic, and relevant links in a cluster. You then get two additional results, images from Ask.com and an IMDB link. Next up is a latest news cluster, then TV listings after that again. Parts of the results you already get in Google (in particular news, images and video), but what it looks more like is another service: Mahalo.
The Jason Calacanis founded search engine come content play offers pre-bundled results with an aim to deliver related links people are looking for...pretty much the same use case Ask.com is targeting. Mahalo uses "guides" to generate their pages, so in theory the end results should be more user friendly, and certainly the break down into usable clusters is more thorough than what Ask.com is offering. But likewise, Mahalo has a distinct disadvantage: the need for human updating. On the Angelina Jolie query, the latest news link on Mahalo (at the time of writing) is dated May 28, vs Ask.com at 1 hour. The divide then comes down to not the quality of links, but use case relevance: is a user going to find Mahalo more attractive because it offers better bundling, or Ask.com that offers refresher results, including links to the latest news or gossip.
I'd bet that someone is going to call Ask.com a Mahalo killer, but that person isn't me. On its original model that was focused primarily on search results, Ask.com would have been a big blow, but Mahalo has changed over time, and today it is part blog-like content play with some obvious SEO benefits in itself, rather than simply the "human-powered search engine" it once was. That, and both sites don't have strong crossover, so the substitution of use model doesn't really come into play...well, not significantly anyway.