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New, improved Ask.com buckles under pressure

We used Ask.com's new search engine to look for punters in Cambridge, but it seems everyone else had the same idea -- it's a shame, because it's good when it works

Ask.com has launched an updated version of its search engine, but rather than bringing Jeeves back, it's gone all high-tech with a brand new search algorithm, new features and a new look.

We've been trying the beta version for a few weeks and thought it was pretty good. But the minute it was officially announced, Ask's server seemed to buckle under the weight of a trillion curious Web users.

Taking a break from the gadget world, Kate Macefield, of Crave Podcast fame, decided to search for escorts in Cambridge -- well, just their punters, really.

But instead of getting a page full of curb crawlers or semi-clad ladies of negotiable affection, she was greeted by the error message: "We are currently experiencing an unusually large amount of Web searches. Please try your search again."

It looks as if Ask underestimated the number of people wanting to broaden their search horizons. It lacked faith in its easy-to-read three-column layout, its in-search video playback and the amazing binoculars feature, which lets you preview Web sites without actually clicking the link.

Ask.com is now fully operational again, possibly because everyone's tried it, yawned, and gone back to Google. But we advise you to check it out. It's really rather good when it works. -Rory Reid