Ask are trying to get their number of searches up by offering prizes when searchers see a winning message. The idea is that the more people search the better chance they have of winning a prize. They are also encouraging people to make Ask their homepage and download the toolbar.
interesting idea - how much traffic - in terms of millions of visitors it will steal from G, Y, MSN with this particular approach - though i'm not convinced it would generate as many new customers as a regularly crawled and updated index.
Ask has got all the tools to now dig its heal in and start trying to get some serious market share and make the big 3 - the big 4. But i have been certainly waiting for the last couple of years for anything positive to happen along these lines!
There are some things I do like Ask for, if they spidered more frequently they might be on to something. As far as I can see for the terms I search, they often have less spam in the top 10 than the big 3.
Their blog search can be useful, although I must admit I've only used it a handful of times.
I wish they'd clean up their favicon though.. yeah, I'm being nitpicky but it looks terrible in the dropdown list in my browser.. jaggy, distorted and unreadable. So much so that I tend to not use it... and yes, sometimes it's the little things that can make users walk away.
(Hmm, I just checked and the full url to view the favicon is now spitting out text).