search tips


Ask is one of the most interesting search engines, they’ve put a lot of thought into their UI. They have some cool features, especially after they introduced their new ‘Ask3D’ interface. Here’s how to get the most out of Ask.

More results. Through the display options, you can get up to a hundred results per page, rather than the normal ten. This is really handy if you’re looking for something obscure, and want to quickly do an eyeball scan over a lot of links at once. To turn this on, go to the Options menu in the top right corner of the page, chose Displaying Results, and choose how many you want from the dialog:


Binoculars Preview. Popular sites are given a thumbnail preview you can access by hovering the mouse over the icon next to their name. This is handy for deciding if the site is worth visiting, especially if you’re looking for something visually distinctive.


Search Zooming. For many searches, Ask will provide a list of suggestions to narrow your search, broaden it, and give some names that are related to your terms. This can be very useful when you’re not sure exactly what you’re looking for, it’s an easy way to explore a topic. Suggestions are given on an impressive range of terms, not just the most popular searches. Here’s what I got for optical flow, which is a fairly obscure topic:


The suggestions given are all relevant to the subject, and very specific. The inclusion of Horn Schunck was particularly surprising to me, showing they’re doing some clever analysis of either the pages they index, or the searches their users make most often.

Modified Since. Ask lets you limit your search results to pages that have changed in a certain time-frame. This helps if you’re looking for information that rapidly goes stale. For example when you hit a bug with a rapidly updating web service like Google Mail, you can check for recent reports of similar problems without worrying about getting high-ranking results that are obsolete. There’s also some searches where you want to narrow your focus, but can’t think of more specific terms. An example of that would be music festivals los angeles. If you were trying to find a particular one you couldn’t remember the name of, but knew was coming up soon, only looking at pages modified in the last week would give you a better chance. This feature comes in handy in the same circumstances that news and blog searches do, for current events and getting the most up-to-date information on things that change rapidly, like fashion. To use it, go to Advanced below the search box, and chose from the Modified Since popup menu.


Sidebar Results. Alongside the main search results, Ask gives you snippets from other services. These vary depending on the search, but they’ll typically contain things like a Wikipedia summary and blog search results. It’s a nice use of space, since the right side is usually unused on other engines, and having it available at a glance makes those areas a lot more accessible. I’m more likely to check Wikipedia or do a blog search if I spot there’s already some interesting results available, rather than having to do an extra searching step without that guarantee.


Pretty Pictures. My final tip won’t increase your productivity, but it may help your stress levels. On the main search page, there’s an option called skins. On the popup menu, you can choose a background image for the page, Western Sky is my favorite. It’s a nice reminder there’s a world beyond the internet!

More Search Tips…

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