After more than a year in beta, Ask.com today opened the doors on its community-based question-and-answer product. It positions Ask as much less search-oriented, and much more Q&A based — not unlike its original incarnation in the 1990s.
The Q&A site had been available in beta to a limited number of users since last July (2010) when Ask began to transition from search to Q&A. As you’ll see on the third screenshot below, Ask says it has more than 344,000 people already in the Q&A community.
At the time of the initial announcement last summer, the Ask.com homepage still had a search bar, but a “Question of the Day” and a short list of “Popular Questions” was added.
(Ask.com homepage, July 27, 2010)
Today, the home page still has that “Question of the Day,” but several human-powered Q&A sets show below it along with a box letting users add new answers right from the home page. The old “Search” button now says “Ask,” and the Image/News/Local and other search options have been moved from the top menu bar to a “Search Tools” area in the right column.
(Ask.com homepage, September 1, 2011)
Search has clearly been minimized with the new homepage. The top navigation now features “Ask People” as prominently as “Search the Web.”
The “Ask” button on the homepage actually works like a search button, but the search results page goes out of its way to promote the Q&A aspects of Ask.com.
Ask’s new focus is fully on display when you switch over to the “Ask People” tab. That’s where you get an experience that will be familiar to most anyone who’s ever spent time on a Q&A site.
Yahoo Answers is the 800-lb. gorilla among answers sites, and Quora has gained a lot of momentum in the past year. There’s also Facebook Questions, Answers.com and a host of other options for people looking for human — not algorithmic — answers to their questions and queries. And don’t forget that Google bought Aardvark about 18 months ago and there’s been speculation that it signaled Google’s interest in getting back into the Q&A space. (Then again, Aardvark has remained in Google Labs since the purchase, and everything in Labs is currently in a state of uncertainty.)
All of which is to say that, despite Ask’s pedigree in Q&A, there’s no guarantee it’ll do better there than it has in search.
(Tip via WSJ.)