Ask.com just came out with a new interface, and heck, it’s clean. The result are good too. MSN Search also recently cleaned up their interface a bit, removing the heavy blue graphic from the home page that slowed load times. I’m just going to pick a technical subject, and lets see how well they all do. I was reading the Microsoft announcement today about the various flavors of Vista, and wanted more information on their new UNIX subsystem which allows UNIX apps to run on Vista. Here we go-
Ask.com – UNIX Subsystem Vista
Google.com – UNIX Subsystem Vista
Search.Msn.com – UNIX Subsystem Vista
Search.Yahoo.com – UNIX Subsystem Vista
A9.com – UNIX Subsystem Vista
Icerocket.com – UNIX Subsystem Vista
Open them all up in tabs and take a look. Msn, Google and A9 are identical. Ask.com gets a gold star for having more real-time information, they have the Forbes article (dated 02.27.06, 12:02 AM ET ) on the Microsoft Vista press announcement in their first page. None of the other engines have this at this point (which may change by the time you do the search.) Yahoo is, well, bottom of the pack, Their relevancy just isn’t up there with the rest.
Msn, Yahoo! A9, Google and Icerocket all have a cache of the pages in the results, Ask.com does not. A cache can be really useful, that’s something Ask needs to add. Google’s the only one with a Similar Pages search link baked into the results. Not sure how useful that is. Icerocket has QuickView, which I think I could use occasionally for scanning, although tabbed browsing sort of kills the usefulness of this.
Google is stil the fastest search provider out there, for this they get a gold star. Yahoo! was the slowest, by far, it took forever for their results to load. Msn was right behind Google, they sputter a little sometimes but for the most part their pages load just as fast as Google’s.
I’d say, in terms of ease of readability, I’d give A9 top marks. (But this is totally open to individual interpretation, tell me what you think.) Their titles are easy to spot and the relevant keywords are well highlighted within the summary text. Their page is too busy though, loaded up with all kinds of check boxes, borders, options and panels.
Google’s interface is feeling a little cluttered. Their text is too bunched up, and their links are folded over on two lines in most cases and aren’t clipped short enough. I have to say, Google is starting to look less clean than some of thier competitors to me, a visual style they pioneered. I’m surprised they haven’t continued to update their results page format over the years. It’s getting dated.
Msn has a different problem, they needs to make their results easier to scan like A9. The text on Msn’s results tends to blend together too much, it’s hard to pick out individual results while scanning the page. Bold titles and shrinking the summary text one notch would probably do it. (Yes I just criticized Msn Search, imagine that.)
Icerocket is too cluttered as well. You can turn off the page thumbnail images if you want (a totally worthless feature IMHO) but it’s still too cluttered. It does load pretty quick however.
As far as cleanliness goes, I think Ask.com gets top marks. Simple, no nonsense, easy to read, and no clutter.
I think I’m going to throw an Ask link up and give them a whirl for a week or two, I’m impressed so far. If your browser supports Open Search, you can add ask.com to your search providers here. Overall, unless your using Yahoo! as your search engine (which you probably shouldn’t be, it’s bottom of the heap on all counts), there’s absolutely nothing compelling in these results that would warrent switching from your current choosen search provider. Extra search engine features aside, search itself, is pretty much a flatland. With a level playing field, it makes it very easy for users to switch if they happen to find something they like about the other search engines. Whether it’s Msn’s information applets, or Icerocket’s QuickView option, or Ask’s clean interface, there’s nothing compelling about the results of the search engine. Which I would think has to scare the heck out of Google, if they’re even paying attention at this point.