Ask.com tonight is launching a new interface and a few cool new features for its search engine, which it's calling Ask3D (see CNET News.com's story). The company's AskX experimental search interface previewed many of its features.
The first thing users will notice is an attractive new home page, with pretty buttons to narrow a search by type, such as images, maps, or blogs. Users can select one of several photos as a background image on the main search interface. (In the future, you'll be able to use your own image). When you begin to type in a query, a drop-down box gives you suggestions to fill it out.
The new interface splits up search result pages into three panes. In the middle, you get your ads (by Google) and your main links. If there's an editorially created "smart answer," as there is for a popular query like "Speed Racer," you'll get a useful little blurb above everything else. Ask.com's editorial team, like Mahalo's, creates content for the most popular results (Mahalo also curates search results, which is a useful additional service).
Many results have a spyglass icon, which will display a snapshot of the search result when you hover over it (like CoolIris.com does), as well as displaying useful stats such as the page size and the load time.
On the left of the main pane, you get links related to your search. For example, in the "Speed Racer" search, under "narrow," there are links to search on ringtones, facts, the Mach 5, and so on. These links do a very good job of conveying the context of the search you're looking at.