Siyu Chen


Based on Ask. Com company introduction (http://bit.ly/QjorWC,) Ask.com was founded as Ask Jeeves in 1996 and re-named as Ask.com in 2005. It is headquartered in Oakland, California with an international presence in the UK and Europe. It is the fourth biggest site on the web in terms of monthly searches with more than 100 million unique users globally attracted.

Within 15 years, Ask.com committed to its mission of increasing personal knowledge by empowering people with answers. Ask.com is a hybrid form of a search company and answer company. As stated in the mission (http://bit.ly/QjorWC,) Ask.com thinks the best way to deliver on this promise is to give users a service that makes it fun, easy and satisfying to ask and answer everyday questions, be they personal or professional, serious or silly, easy or difficult. Since Ask.com encourages people to input search query in a question format, I consider Ask.com to be an appropriate tool for searching when just starting a project and still at the brainstorming stage. To make it an even better tool for brainstorming, Ask.com provides great suggestion types as well as “recommended to you” and “You Might Also Ask” sections on the right. Users can take an advantage of  these three query building assistances especially if they have no idea of what to look for regarding a specific topic.

Based on Ask.com company introduction (http://bit.ly/QjorWC,) “starting from July 2010, Ask.com innovative technology scours the web to find answers where they exist online and then turns to a qualified Ask.com user when they don’t.” From this statement, I can see that Ask.com is really making an effort in their answer service. If a user is looking for an objective answer, Ask.com will find and deliver the answer in milliseconds and present the answer rather than a link at the very top of the page. If a user is looking for a somehow subjective answer, Ask.com will use proprietary matching technology to route the question to a qualified Ask.com user who can help. Followed by this mission, Ask.com is aiming at building up a live user community in addition to power of search.

Ask.com’s interface is  clean. You can have a look at the following screenshot of its homepage. On the top menubar, there are “Answers” and “Q&A Community” on the top lefthand corner. In the middle, there are “Images,” “News,” “Videos,” “Locals,” and “References” types of special searches. On the top righthand corner, there are account sign-in bar. Under the search box, you can see there is a big section called “Question of the Day,” which aligns with Ask.com special search technique – ask real people for an answer. There is a big ads section displayed on the homepage, which is very different from Google or Bing, whose home pages do not have any ads.

Specialized search strategies

On one hand, Ask.com only allows users to use some simplified query combination rather than complicated ones. For example, from the video “Overview of ask.com,” Professor Moore points out that Ask.com does not allow the search operator “OR.”

On the other hand, based on my research on Ask.com, there is a specialized search strategy on Ask.com, which differentiates it from Google, Bing, or Yahoo. This is how this new search strategy works,

  • When user type a question for a search, the site not only returns with web-based answers but also provides a button to ask the community, which reflects its mission in their everyday operation
  • Clicking “ask the community,” which allows users to modify the question and provides a list of keywords to help the site categorize the query
  • However, according to a user’s feedback in the article “Can Ask.com’s New Search Strategy Work?” (http://bit.ly/bB5a12,) Ask.com’s new community answer feature seems to be limited because not many people have signed up for it. After I experimented with this feature, it does not work so well either. I will provide my search with details in the later section.


How to use

In this section, I focus on how I utilize Ask.com’s special feature – Q&A community step by step and provide my thoughts on the experiment with Ask.com.

1. Since Ask.com Q&A community is their special feature, I did a research on this topic on Ask.com. I clicked into the Q&A section rather than Answer on the upper left corner, as showing in the following screenshot:


2. Since it was my first time on the Ask.com Q&A community, it asked me to sign up and make an account. Although this step is understandable, it is still a little annoying. As Joshua states in the post “Ask vs. Google Follow up” (http://bit.ly/SoEhgQ,) the mobile site of Ask.com seems to have the same requirement, Joshua needs to create a username and password before doing a simple web search, which he finds really annoying as well.

3. In order to proceed to the next step, I created a new account instead of using my Facebook or LinkedIn to log in. Because I do not want my friend and professional connections on Facebook and LinkedIn to see what I ask on Ask.com due to privacy concern. My kind reminder to fellow users is that when you sign in to a new site, using Facebook account or other social network accounts is very easy and time-saving; however, if you care more about the privacy between different sites, you should consider having separate accounts for different sites.

4. After I logged in to Ask.com, I typed in my query as a question in the search box, and my question appeared in the bottom question area, as showing in the following screenshot:

5. I waited awhile for people’s responses, and after an hour after I finally got my first answer, as showing in the screenshot:

6. For this question, I have got only two answers in total after one day, and here is the screenshot for the answers:

7. Before I go to other places to double check the accuracy of these answers, I have already found the first answer is not accurate. In the first answer, TheHarem said “Ask.com has more than 100 million users globally. So, if you and me make 2, that still leaves 998 million more users to account for.” Obviously, excluding her and me, Ask.com should have 99,999,998 users instead of 998 million more users. Since she made this simple calculation wrong, I have to question myself whether I should trust her answer at all.

8. To reduce biased results, I went to Google instead of Ask.com itself to find how many people are in the Ask.com Q&A community, and here is the article that I found related to my question and surprisingly, it is the most-up-to-dated one. In this article, “Got a question? Get an Answer from the Ask Community,” (http://bit.ly/p1bRZP) published in Sep, 2011, the author states there were around 63 million people in the community.

9. A community of 63 million people  is quite good in terms of online community size. In addition to a good community size, I also care about the quality and accuracy of the answer that the community provides. I have done more research on how Ask.com ensures the quality of an answer. According to Ask.com FAQ support, “while anyone can answer a question, we allow users to rate the best answers and actively remove any obvious false, misleading or inappropriate answers” (http://bit.ly/Qlwbas.) Given this being said, the answer quality highly relies on members’ ratings without any professional monitor. As a user, I am not satisfied with this methodology. Even if I rate an answer as “not satisfied”, what else can I do? I still cannot find a good answer given the fact that not many people are able to answer my question in the first place.

10. In spite of Q&A community insufficiency, there is a good feature of updating the new answer with the questioner by sending the questioner an email notification. In this case, users do not even need to subscribe RSS feed or set up an email alert to follow up the question.

Comparison with Google Web search

After doing my own experiment and reading a good amount of class posts on Ask.com, such as “Google vs. Ask on my Professional Topic” (http://bit.ly/TqgcaI,) “Google vs. Ask Relevancy” (http://bit.ly/QlAAdr,) and “Surprisingly Impressed With Ask.com” (http://bit.ly/TmfRnn), I summarized some main points regarding comparison between Ask.com and Google:

Google Ask.com
Good at following changing/updating events Good at providing definite answer to common standard question, having a good answer session before other answers
Lack of Q&A community Have Q&A real people answering but need to be improved regarding quality and quantity
Many other specialized search features, such as Google finance, trends, patents, shopping, and etc. Only have few specialized search features, such as game, shopping, map, and local
Showing the amount of search results, helping to modify a better query for more relevant results Not showing the amount of search results, making it hard to evaluate query quality

How to get the most out of it & Recommendation

As I mentioned in the beginning, Ask.com is a good search/answer tool for brainstorming or at the beginning of the project. It has many sections to help you refine the query and suggest new queries regarding your query, as showing in the following screenshot:

I searched for the China car industry in Ask.com to brainstorm. I can take a look at right hand site for “Your answer” or “Want a Personal Answer?” for more research. More importantly, right under the paid results in the yellow section, there is a collection of answers assembled by Ask.com already, such as “Why China will take over the car industry in the world?”, “What are Chinas major industries?”, and etc. These are all very helpful for my brainstorming of the project since they will broaden my views on the project.

On the other hand, since Ask.com does not provide many advanced search or search result amount, I would not recommend using this for further research stage. Especially, when tracing some current issues or events, Ask.com cannot provide a good “people” answer since the question is not a common standard question. Therefore, for further stage of the research, I will still suggest to use a standard Google Web search with more advanced search features and displaying the number of the results.


“Ask.com company introduction” http://bit.ly/QjorWC: This is  an article regarding Ask.com company introduction.

“Overview of Ask.com lesson” http://bit.ly/Rb0LF4: This is the lesson taught by Professor Scott Moore on Ask.com.

“Can Ask.com’s New Search Strategy Work?” http://bit.ly/bB5a12: This is the article discussing about Ask.com’s news search strategy.

“Ask vs. Google Follow Up” http://bit.ly/SoEhgQ: This is a student class post on the comparison between Ask. con and Google.

“How does Ask ensure answer quality?” http://bit.ly/Qlwbas: This is the article discussing how Ask.com ensures people’s answers’ quality.

“Google vs. Ask on my Professional Topic” http://bit.ly/TqgcaI: This is a student class post on how he utilized both Google and Ask.com for his professional project.

“Google vs. Ask Relevancy” http://bit.ly/QlAAdr: This is a student class post on the comparison between Google and Ask.com relevancy.

“Surprisingly Impressed With Ask.com” http://bit.ly/TmfRnn: This is a student post on the comparison between Google and Ask.com.

About the author

Siyu Chen is an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan studying Business Administration. She has a strong interest in marketing as well as finance. She enjoys travelling, photography, and swimming.


To Google or not to Google? Copyright © 2013 by Siyu Chen. All Rights Reserved.