From the Tech Toolbox

When Ask.com was known as Ask Jeeves, I had a hard time taking it seriously. Its butler logo was the uncool opposite of Google’s minimalist hipness, and its basic premise—that it could imagine in advance the questions users might ask, match the query a user typed in to one of its imagined questions, and give a prepared response—seemed doomed, like an attempt to learn a foreign language by mastering all the possible sentences you might hear. (As a fallback, the old Ask Jeeves would conduct a standard keyword search based on the user’s query.)

But its relaunched version, introduced early this year, is worthy of serious attention. In addition to its “Zoom” feature, which lets you easily narrow or broaden the topic of a standard search or a question, it has several other features that are interesting, useful, or both. Its mapping service is like those from Google, Yahoo, or MSN—but also offers walking directions from point to point, avoiding the indirect routes you might have to take by car. It has a customizable toolbar that permits easy one-click searches for weather in your area, shopping, maps, and so on. A “Binoculars” feature gives thumbnail previews of the Web sites returned by a search, which often saves time in picking out the one you really want. (You can create the same effect for Google by downloading a GooglePreview extension.) I have found that its image-search system gives better and more relevant results than others I have tried.

All of today’s mainstream search engines are good, and none of them is perfect. But the new Ask.com deserves a look. —J.F.

Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. Who cares about youth? James Hamblin turns to his colleague Jeffrey Goldberg for advice.

Video

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. James Hamblin turns to a colleague for advice.

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

Video

Pittsburgh: 'Better Than You Thought'

How Steel City became a bikeable, walkable paradise

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

More in Technology

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In