In a last-ditch effort to restore its relevance, Ask.com is going back to its roots. The search site launched a Q&A service today that will answer questions that users ask in plain English, such as: Why is a four leaf clover lucky? The service relies on something Google's algorithms don't: real live human beings. The "Ask the Community" tool allows you to pose a question to a group of self-proclaimed experts who specialize in specific fields. Ask.com says the response time will be less than 10 minutes. Once the question is answered, the information will be saved for others searching the same question. For now, the new service is invite-only (you can apply for an invite here). Will the new strategy work?

  • The Company's Betting Everything On This, writes Greg Sterling at Search Engine Land: "Ask has tried a number of things since 2008, after abandoning the innovative '3D' interface championed by former CEO Jim Lanzone (now at Clicker). None have really succeeded in moving the needle for the company, which has a stable core user base but can’t seem to generate new growth... The company is making a serious bet that 'Q&A' can be a differentiator for Ask and provide new appeal for the engine, which has seen flat-to-modestly-declining traffic over the past two years."
  • This Isn't Going to Work, writes Liane Cassavoy at PC World: "Even if the results it provides are stellar, I'm not convinced that Ask is going to woo Web users its way. After all, we're smarter Web searchers than we were 10 years ago: we know we can enter a question into Google's search box if we really want to. And we know Google can deliver authoritative results -- not just an answer from another Web user that may or may not be true. In this respect, it feels like Ask.com is late to the party, even though this party may have been Ask's idea first. Mr. Jeeves may be better off looking for work elsewhere."
  • This Is a Natural Fit for Ask, writes David Goldman at CNN Money: "Ask.com is already data-mining to present many of its search results in the form of an answer. For instance, a search for 'who is the fastest man in the world' gives the answer: 'Usain Bolt, who holds the world records for both the men's 200 m and the men's 100 m, is the fastest person in the world.' The same search on Google doesn't answer the question outright, but the top link is a Wikipedia article on Usain Bolt."
  • 'It's a Smart Move,' writes Dan Nosowitz at Fast Company: "Ask.com can't compete with Google on sheer algorithmic muscle; nobody can, really. But there are chinks in Google's armor, chinks Google itself is perfectly aware of. Google knows that curated answers can often be more useful, shown by its acquisition of Aardvark (a direct-response Q&A system) and Metaweb (which removes vocabulary-based ambiguity by referencing a directory of 'entities'). But Ask.com is very close to launch, and could beat Google to the punch."