Ask.com brings new dimension to Web search

Internet search engine Ask.com has been chasing market leader Google Inc. for years without making much headway, but that hasn't deterred its engineers from trying to set the pace for innovation.

In its latest advance, Ask.com on Tuesday will introduce a more dynamic way of displaying search results. The Oakland-based company will sort its results into three vertical panels spread across the computer screen instead of piling 10 links in a static stack like most major search engines have been doing for the past decade.

The new approach, dubbed "Ask 3D," will be highlighted by a panel on the far right of the screen devoted to relevant photos and multimedia results, including video and music clips that can be played without leaving the page. In other instances, the third panel may feature weather reports or snippets from blogs and news sites.

The kinds of results displayed in the third panel will hinge on the type of the search request and the location of the computer used to enter the information.

For instance, a query about a presidential candidate Barack Obama is more likely to generate photos and news items in the third panel, while an inquiry about Gwen Stefani is more likely to feature music and video clips along with information about any upcoming shows in the area.

"In some ways, we are becoming a convergence engine," said Jim Lanzone, Ask's chief executive. "We want to bring you the right information from the right source at the right time."

To make its site more visually compelling, Ask.com also is creating a new feature that will enable visitors to wrap digital photos around the search box. Mountain View-based Google began allowing similar decorations, known as "skins," in late March.

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