There is a new look at Ask. Following hot on the heels of the recent announcement by Google of its Universal Search, Ask has now released something with very similar attributes, but significant and interesting differences.
The new search is known internally as "Ask3D". The name is a reflection of both the 3-column design and Ask's integration of multiple vertical search properties into their search results. So far I have seen results from Image Search, Video Search, Local Search, News Search, and Blog Search.
Unlike Google's Universal Search approach, Ask3D presents the most relevant types of data in categories within the search results, segregated by content type. All the image search results are shown in one place, all the video search results are shown in one place, etc.
Here is a summary of what happens on a few example searches, starting with the search results you see when you enter in "Barack Obama":
Notice the Images, News Images, and Video results in the right column. What you can't see, because my screen shot is too small, is the News and Shopping links that show up further down on the right hand column. All of these data items are coming from vertical sources.
Here is what you see when you enter Gwen Stefani:
Notice how the results differ from the Barack Obama search results. The Gwen Stefani results show upcoming events, tied to my current location (I am in Seattle at the moment), and three of her most popular sound tracks. Click on a sound track, and it plays for you right then and there.
So now lets see when you search on Liverpool:
More changes still in this view. Now you see current weather and the current time in the right hand column. If this is the answer you are looking for, there is no need to perform a follow on search.
Lastly, let's look at what happens if you search on Boston Red Sox:
Now Sports Blogs and related Business Listings (places to stay) are brought into the mix.
The bottom line in all this is that Ask3D categorizes and presents the most relevant types of data into the search results presented. Unlike Google's Universal Search, the data is segregated by content type. All the image search results are shown in one place, all the video search results are shown in one place, etc.
This is a very interesting difference from Google's Universal Search. Google integrates its results into the "10 blue links". So if Google deems a search result from video search to be the fifth most relevant result, it will be mixed in with the rest of the web search results, and shown in the 5th position.
With Ask3D, the presumption is different. Ask3D presumes that the user wants to know where to find the video results (for example), and wants to see them grouped together, rather than mixing them into the web search results. So the results are shown on the right column, instead of in the middle. I can't honestly tell you which one is ultimately better for the user. But the fact that Ask has jumped into the game with this is pretty cool.
Kevin Newcomb has written up the changes in today's SearchDay. You can also read Gary Price's summary of the Ask3D announcement here.