Google might have the highest market share, the most visitors, and is the most powerful brand of 2007, but the other search engines happen to exist for a reason: they satisfy the needs of users. A WebmasterWorld member actually finds Ask, which is the weakest of the four at the present, to be the best search engine. His claim is that "it produces much better results." Furthermore, to its credit, "Ask is naturally more difficult to game, and no Ask rep has needed to ask webmasters to rat on their colleagues - because it hasn't needed to."
Good observation. But his post went unanswered for several days until someone pointed out that while Ask does show promise, they have other issues: "poor spidering [and] very low caching ability." Worse, "their complete absense here on webmasters world, their refusal to engage with webmasters, plus the lack of referals does mean no one hearabouts gets excited about ask."
Another member has similar findings, especially after reviewing his server logs:
In my case, I can easily see that Ask/Teoma bot keeps asking for non-existing, deprecated URLs, which have been superseded over 2.5yr ago.
For some reason, Ask/Teoma bot is very slow to spider new pages, readily crawlable from the site's linking structure (or by consulting the sitemap.xml new standard), with deeplinks from other sites. Instead, many of its requests end up 404s (i.e. waste of resources, both its own and ours).
These observations do not boost my confidence in Ask's ability to find relevant content.
But there's more. Andy Hagans writes a blog post urging Ask (and Microsoft) to respect users' privacy. He considers it a "business opportunity" if the smaller engines would become a "privacy engine," so that user results are not stored for more than 2 weeks/2 months.
At a certain point, search relevancy is a relative commodity (is Google really that much better than is was a year ago?), and other priorities are going to determine where searchers hang their hats. For millions of searchers out there, the overriding “other priority” is privacy.
Hey, I hear you, Andy.
In 2004, Barry also reported about Ask.com as a search engine that shows a terrific amount of potential. Still, they could do so much more if they engage in the community. I think that would be a wonderful thing.
Discussion continues at WebmasterWorld.