In the initial MSN Search Beta release we introduced a feature called Encarta Answers. This provides direct answers to all sorts of questions related to geographical locations, historical figures, definitions, calculations, conversions, and simple equations.  Encarta Answers show the exact answer to your question or query right at the top of the MSN Search results pages.

Here are just a few examples of things you can do with Encarta Answers:
– What is the population of Sweden?
– What is the largest volcano on Mars?
– Who is Nolan Bushnell?
– How many calories in spinach?
– How many inches in 2.5 feet?
– x^2 + 4x – 17 = 32
– What is cryptozoology?

One of the biggest things we’re doing with the new MSN Search is giving a 2 hour “free pass” to all Encarta encyclopedia articles whenever you click an Encarta link on an MSN Search page.  This means that all clicks from Encarta Answers and algorithmic links in MSN Search will give you free access to all the encyclopedia articles in Encarta and their associated media for 2 hours.

And, any time you go back to MSN Search, do another search, and click on an Encarta link, we’ll reset your free pass back up to 2 hours.

There still will be some things that you can’t get to with the free pass, such as Encarta’s homework tools, archives, sidebars, etc., but you’ll never again have to worry about clicking on a “Learn more about …” link in Encarta Answers and not actually being able to learn more.

We’ve spent the last few months increasing our Encarta Answers data set to over 1,500,000 facts and definitions that we can return.  That’s an increase of 50% since the beta!

In addition to everything else you could do before, you can now also get facts about many more historical figures, nutritional information about basic foods, sporting events winners, prize winners, and many more general reference items.

Here are a few examples that show just the tip of the iceberg of the new things we can answer with Encarta Answers in MSN Search:

– What do elephants eat?
– When was the Hundred Years war?
– Who won the World Series in 1920?
– What is a fear of cats?
– How much vitamin C in an orange?

You can now go to the Encarta tab in MSN Search to narrow your search only to Encarta pages.  This Encarta focused search results page will also display richer Encarta encyclopedia article previews for an article that matches your query.  In addition to having a great text preview of an article, we will also show links straight to lists of related Encarta articles, media, maps, search results, or even to a specific section of an Encarta encyclopedia article related to your search.

This same Encarta tab search is also available through the new MSN.com homepage.

We hope that you like all of the great integration between MSN Search and Encarta.  We’ve had fun working on it, and we hope you have fun using it and find it useful.  Please send us feedback and your ideas on how we can make it even better.

— John Solaro, Encarta PM