Live Search has just added Instant Answers for snow conditions at ski resorts. Type a query for a resort name (such as “whistler”) or for a resort area (such as “CO snow report”) and you’ll see information such as lift status, amount of new snow, base depth, and conditions.
The blog post acknowledges that content boxes like this above the web results can be a balancing act. (Google recently expanded its local Onebox to 10 listings, to mixed reviews.) They’ll show a maximum of four resorts. For example, the query “washington snowboarding” brings up the top four open resorts by recent snowfall.
This information isn’t triggered by searches where intent is ambiguous (for instance, “blackjack,” which can be either a ski area or a mobile phone). One commenter to the blog post wondered whether this behavior was due to a manual keyword list or because of algorithmic factors. Alex Gutarin, Program Manager at Microsoft, replied:
“We use a bit of both. We first algorithmically identify suspect terms (e.g., based on the analysis of volume of queries and some other metrics) and then subject them to an editorial review.”
One interesting thing I noticed is that this morning, a search for Snoqualmie brought up conditions for the ski area. But currently, “Snoqualmie” brings up an Instant Answer with news about the the fact that the pass to Snoqualmie is currently closed.
This could be an intelligent display (it’s more useful to show that I can’t get to Snoqualmie right now than it is to show me what the conditions would be like were I able to get there). However, “snoqualmie ski” is still showing conditions, so if this is algorithmic intelligence at work, it’s highly targeted to focused keywords. More likely, Live Search shows only one Instant Answer at a time, the News Instant Answer is triggered on “snoqualmie” and not “snoqualmie ski,” and in the Instant Answer hierarchy, news trumps snow conditions. In either case, it’s interesting logic that, in my case, was extremely useful and gave me exactly the information I needed with no clicks from the search results.
I’ve been looking for functionality like this since the beginning of the winter season. The closest I had been able to find before this is the Snow Report Facebook application, which requires me to log in to Facebook and doesn’t provide as much information.
Do the other engines give me helpful information for all of my snowboarding needs? Ask is the only other engine who realizes the importance of snowboarding, giving me similar information in a Smart Answer:
However, they falter a little compared to Live Search on the “snoqualmie” search, showing me neither conditions nor news of the road closure, and instead filling a large portion of the page with a map of the town of Snoqualmie. (For someone interested in visiting the town, however, this might be a more relevant result.)
Google has no corresponding Onebox. The official ski area websites tend to have sitelinks and an expandable map to quickly get you to the information you need (although that requires a click), and a current search for “snoqualmie” has a news result about the pass closing as the fourth result. Yahoo! apparently isn’t a big skier or snowboarder.