The Librarian in Black wrote a very compelling piece about Ask.com a couple of weeks ago (see, I am working through all the exciting stuff I’ve been meaning to read for weeks and weeks). The comments got to be a little battle-of-the-search-engines-ish, but the original post really got me thinking about my search engine use at home, at the library, and especially at the reference desk..
I’ve played around with Ask.com quite a bit, and for the most part I love it… lots. There are a couple of things I don’t like: the ads, for instance, and the knock-you-out-of-your-shoes red color. (Google has ads, but maybe my eyes have learned to jump down precisely to the first “real” result, and I’d be the first to admit that choosing a search engine based on accent color is less than ideal.) But for the most part I absolutely love Ask. Why? Because of the thought that goes into leading users from a broad search right down to what they actually were looking for via right-hand-margin menus for narrowing and expanding searches, and those nifty drop-down boxes for help clarifying ambiguous searches. Their driving/walking directions are also wonderful, mostly because it’s so easy to add a new point and re-order the points in a trip. But I digress. The point is that I hardly ever use this thing that I like so much, and I don’t think it has anything to do with brand loyalty.
I think it has something to do with being brainwashed by Google, and with using so many of my other Google products all the time. And as we all know, Google generally does a very good job. Not only that, but I feel like I “know” it better because so much has been surmised about its ranking algorithms, particularly PageRank. These things were taught to me in library school. Ask.com’s ranking behavior wasn’t mentioned in library school. Somehow knowing everything I do about all that I don’t know about Google’s ranking rules is somehow more comforting than not knowing what I don’t know about Ask’s ranking (called “ExpertRank” I just found out). I don’t think this is Ask’s fault. I haven’t done a whole lot of sleuthing, and the service is relatively new, but it’s also not as easy to come by information on ExpertRank as it is on PageRank.
And like one of the commenters said in response to the Librarian in Black’s post, Googling is such a convenient word, while “ask-dot-comming” will take a bit of getting used to.
Still, I’m resolved to make more informed and less habit-driven choices when I do my searching. Wish me luck. Battling brainwashing is kind of an up-hill process.