While the allure of natural-language, or just-ask-a-question, search may have lost its luster over time, search-engine mainstay Ask Jeeves has managed to remain in the race, buoyed by some clever new features and its recent (though puzzling) acquisition by media mogul Barry Diller. Ask Jeeves's info-packed Smart Search boxes, instant site preview (displaying a thumbnail of the destination Web page), and ability to save and organize search results provide powerful research tools for students young and old. Unfortunately, its multimedia and local searches still leave something to be desired.
Ask Jeeves has always had a pretty spare interface, with its signature butler asking ever so politely, "What can I help you find today?" Recently, however, the site has moved away from its antiquated Ask button, replacing it with a more contemporary Search button instead. There's also a series of links above the search box for Web, Pictures, News, Local, and Products searches. A row of highlighted icons along the bottom of the screen offers access to special features such as MyJeeves, which saves favorite searches; Downloads, which includes the Ask Jeeves search toolbar; and the forthcoming Ask Jeeves desktop search tool.
Ask Jeeves's main search results put your searches into context. For many of our searches, a Smart Search box appeared above our results, with images, a brief explanatory blurb, and links to news items, secondary images, Wikipedia entries, shopping sites, local weather, and airport info. Even better, mouse over the little binocular icons next to several of the results, and you'll see a thumbnail-size preview of the Web site. Cached pages are also available, perfect for viewing old versions of frequently updated Web sites. You can also save your favorite search results in the MyJeeves portal, where you can sort and organize your top results and search history. Image searches provide thumbnails but no information on file size or dimensions. At present, Ask Jeeves lacks video and music searches.
Unfortunately, we found local searches on Ask Jeeves to be hit-and-miss. On the one hand, you can enter and save locations, such as work and home, and recall them for future searches. However, when you call up a saved location, Ask Jeeves remembers only the city and the state, not your address, meaning that the location-search results you save won't show precise distances. Luckily, the site grabs your street address when calculating driving distances. Also on the plus side are Ask Jeeves's mapping features, with numbered icons for each search result and links to CitySearch reviews for restaurants, bars, and other local venues. We also like Ask Jeeves's rich news searches, which feature plenty of sources and news photos, as well as its movie searches, which include posters, ratings, review info from RottenTomatoes.com, and a local showtimes search. The Ask Jeeves downloadable toolbar for IE and Firefox, blocks pop-ups and lets you access your MyJeeves portal. Ask Jeeves's help section doesn't provide detailed search examples, but it includes a basic FAQ for those new to the site.