Research Sites for Writers: Ask

Ask goes back a long time. Originally called Ask Jeeves (and still called Ask Jeeves in the UK), it features a picture of an English Butler. Butlers have a reputation for serious quiet and efficient service; does Ask make the grade?

The search interface is pretty cleanThe interface is simple, so if it’s excitement and whizzery you’re looking for, this is not the search engine for you. From my perspective, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Once again, I used the search term “self-publishing”. What it served up was not, on the whole, particularly interesting-looking. However, one of the sites which caught my eye, towards the bottom of the first page, was How to publish yourself in the UK. It’s a site packed with useful information, although the pages don’t seem to be dated, so I think one would need to double-check anything here before acting on it. Strangely, when I conducted the search about 10 minutes later, this website was no longer there! Well, not on the first page at least – I looked no further.

Getting back to Ask, when I entered the URL it changed automatically to a UK version with a UK-centric search. However, you can “ask it” to search the web as a whole if you prefer. Usefully, there is a list of suggested search terms on the top right-hand side of the page. Clicking on any one of these leads to a new page of results.

Something I didn’t like very much was the preponderance of sponsored results. These appear both at the top and the bottom of the page, so the “genuine” results are sandwiched in the middle.

I did like the advanced search, because it gives you the option of where in the page you’d like the search engine to look for your search term: anywhere in the page title, in the URL or in the title. This seems like a useful way of honing your search.

The location option is potentially very useful

Despite the advanced search feature just mentioned, I think that, on the whole, Ask has seen its heyday. Nevertheless, I will be using it as a backup if other search engines fail to yield useful results. It’s not that it’s not good, it’s more a case of others being better in my opinion. But try it: with its clean interface and no-nonsense approach, you may prefer the quiet, understated service one would expect from a butler.

Ratings out of 5

Look and feel: 2

Results: 2

Quirkiness Factor: 1

Overall: 2

Check out the other articles in this series of Research Sites for Writers.