I agree about the interface being much better with Ask. But, what about the search results? I took a look at them compared to the others and, between sites for adsense and dead links, the results were so poor I was embarrassed for them. I wonder how many of the searches were from repeat users vs once and gone?
I think Steve points out a fundamental concept that we might tend to forget from time to time. The best interface on a piece of garbage just gives you nice looking garbage. Now, I’m not saying that Ask is garbage. But I’ve seen some cases (and heard anecdotally many more) of some issues with spam and I do think they have some work to do. Ultimately, it’s the quality of the results that will determine marketshare. In fact, a nice interface on top of poor results will kill Ask quicker than ever, as it draws more trial users (as Steve alludes to) and generates more negative word of mouth. This is exactly what Ask doesn’t want to happen.
I’m the first to speak up about the importance of the user experience, but it’s important to remember that the interface is only one small part of that. Ultimately, there needs to be enough under the hood to meet and exceed the user’s expectations. Steve (and others) are indicating that Ask might be falling short in the relevancy horsepower department.