Where’s my instant answer?

As we release more instant answers, we get a lot of great feedback on them.  One common question, also brought up by Scoble recently (with follow up), goes something like this: “I like it when you show the stock answer for queries like msft and intc, but why doesn’t it appear for other valid tickers like play?”

We could simply show the answer for all known financial symbols.  The problem is when someone searches for play, it could mean a lot of things besides the stock price of PortalPlayer
A similar problem happens for searches on just a company name. 
Before we show an instant answer, we try very hard to make sure it’s
highly relevant.  Otherwise we would be pushing web results down
the page for nothing.

Here’s another perspective.  When you search for msft, you would expect most of the web results to be about Microsoft.  What about searching for jobs, life or pets?  Would you expect most of the web results to be about 51job Inc, Lifeline Systems or PetMed Express?  If not, does it make sense for the stock prices of these companies to appear prominently?  We don’t think so, and Google and Yahoo
both take a similar approach with these three tickers.  Also
imagine a case where 17 instant answers can trigger for a specific
query – does anyone want to see all 17 prominently on the page to keep
each answer consistent?  However, if you add extra words like
“stock quote” to the symbol or company name, the intent is clearer and we show the stock instant answer.

We realize that some people still just want the stock prices for jobs,
life and pets.  There is also an element of serendipity when a
good answer seems to appear out of the blue.  We are working on a
few ideas for something that will handle these cases, without
sacrificing relevance.

Do we always get this right?  Absolutely not!  If you come
across any bad examples or have other thoughts on how we should handle
this, please let us know.  We’ll take a look.

Jamie Buckley, MSN Search PM

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