With the endless streams of information offered to consumers online, two trends are clearly emerging: searchers are looking for more specific answers, and they trust word-of-web recommendations from friends on social sites. With this in mind, marketers may be interested in Ask.com’s latest move, which aims to set the search portal apart with a Q&A format that lets trusted users determine the most relevant results.

The search portal announced this week that it has launched its public beta for the updated Ask.com, combining its „proprietary answer technology“ with human insight from its 87 million unique users. Its revised Q&A format seems to respond to existing consumer behaviors. Hitwise data shows that consumers are increasingly using longer key phrases to tailor their searches, with five-, six- and seven-word queries rising in percentage in June 2010. At the same time, Foresee results indicate user-generated content on social sites Wikipedia and Facebook are valued information for 15 and 16 percent of U.S. consumers, respectively. The revamped Ask.com lets searchers looking for specific answers throw a question mark at the end of lengthy queries and get most relevant results from fellow users.

Tony Gentile, Ask.com’s senior vice president of products, explains that the company is launching the public beta after carefully perfecting the portal to ensure high-quality answers are displayed at the top of the page. In the company’s blog, he writes that Ask.com has the largest index of questions and matched answers, drawing from hundreds and thousands of web sources. Additionally, he says the site’s social element has been expanded to gather information about users‘ expertise so the right people will be asked to answer community members‘ questions.

Ask.com is not the only search engine that sees value in Q&A formats to give relevant, social results to discerning users. Current leaders of the search market all offer some form of social search – such as Google’s Aardvark or Yahoo Answers. Moreover, even standard searches on search engine giants seem to deliver many of the same results as Ask.com. For instance, the query, „what are the best coffee shops in Boston?“ delivers generally the same top results on Ask.com, Bing, Yahoo and Google. Ask.com has a lot to prove if it wants consumers – and ad dollars – to migrate toward its „conversation“ search site.