Ask.com

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Forget the advertising campaign debacle: There is some real news about Ask.com tonight.

The search engine, which is currently the fourth most used search service, is publicly re-launching tonight around 9 PM PST. You won’t see this when visiting the site: The home page and all results pages have been significantly overhauled and a ton of new features and resources have been added. The company has been testing the changes with a small sample group since late last year.

At the core of the changes is a move towards simplicity, though, which may count for more than the other changes. There is a significantly less cluttered home page with lots of white space. Users can skin that page with a number of options by clicking on “skins” below the search box (my favorite is “azul” if you have a wide enough screen – this is the image at the top of this post). Ask says that users will also be able to upload their own images within a month or so. Google recently started offering users the ability to personalize the home page as well.

The search results themselves are highly customized depending on what type of search is being conducted. Search for a music artist and see images of the artist along with clips from tracks via iLike in the right sidebar (Ask’s sister company, TicketMaster, recently invested in iLike). Search for a city and get different results in the sidebar – a map, weather information, the current time, photos and wikipedia information.

Ask also has a preview feature for search results – click on the binoculars next to a result and a window pops up to view the page. Ask will also tell you the weight of the page, whether it uses Flash or other plugins, and other data.

There are literally dozens of other features as well. Results can be bookmarked by clicking on the “+” icon to the right of each result, for example. Click on advanced search options and it bring it right into the page instead of redirecting like other search engines. And my personal favorite: the Ask logo and header is off to the left, meaning far more results are loaded onto each results page.

The left sidebar contains options to narrow or expand the search, which Ask CEO Jim Lanzone says are clicked on very often to help people find the right query.

Overall this is an excellent upgrade, and it may help Ask grab a market share point or two against the competition. If every 1% of the search market is worth $1 billion or more, then this investment will certainly pay off.

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