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Ask.com makes Web search more visual

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Ask.com is set to give greater prominence in Web search results to photos, video and related searches, responding to growing consumer demand for more than text links, the company said Monday.

Ask, the search business of Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp, calls its new service Ask3D, a reference to the way Ask.com seeks to improve how users compose queries, review search results, then find what they want.

Ask3D divides search into three panels and uses a series of patent-pending technologies to help arrive at its results.

A content-matching system called Morph analyzes what is typed in Ask.com’s text search box and decides what categories of search the user may be most interested in linking to.

“It’s like searching on dozens of search engines at once and having an intelligent decision maker choosing relevant types of content for query,” Ask.com Chief Executive Jim Lanzone said in an interview. “It’s all about reducing the hunting and pecking.”

For example, a search on Ask.com for “pizza” turns up a list of ways to narrow or expand your search on the left side of the results page, including answers to the question “Where did Pizza come from?” for those with an appetite for history.

Search “Darfur” and you see links to news about the region of Sudan at the top of the page. On the left side, a link asks “Why is Darfur in the news?” On the right side there are a list of images, videos, news and the Wikipedia entry.

Instead of clicking on links to photos or videos, users can simply roll over images and see them enlarged. Videos start playing inside the search page.

Ask’s new video search is powered by Blinkx Plc, a video search service that has cataloged 12 million hours of online audio and video programming from 130 media partners. Blinkx said it has agreed to deliver video search to three of the top five Web search sites - AOL, Ask and Microsoft’s MSN.

Similarly, through a partnership with music discovery site iLike.com, direct links to digital songs appear in searches that pertain to music. Users simply have to click to listen to a clip of the song from within Ask search results.

“Ask.com is going to have the most dramatically different results page of all the search engines,” said Danny Sullivan, a search industry analyst and editor-in-chief of SearchEngineLand, who was briefed.

Ask is not alone in seeking to merge multimedia types of search as more Web users now have Internet connections fast enough to display images and video quickly.

Three weeks ago, Google introduced Google Universal Search, combining its different search services into one single search for websites, news, video and other results on one page.

Ask has been very innovative with new ways to use search, many analysts agree. But its cooler features have not translated into market share, as Google’s share has grown steadily in the past two years relative to the other sites.

Ask.com was the fourth-ranked Web search site among U.S. users in April, with 5.1% of the market, according to audience measurement firm comScore Google was first with 49.7%, Yahoo had 26.8% and Microsoft No. 3 at 10.3%.

“Whether it will resonate with Web searchers remains to be seen,” Sullivan said, adding that: “The redesign will give Ask some new momentum. I think it is very innovative.”