Getting the Easy Questions Wrong

I’m thinking of visiting my family for Thanksgiving this year. Needing to confirm the date, I did what seemed like the sensible thing to do; I went to the search engines. Alas, I may have been better off pulling out a real calendar.

My search engine of choice is Google. I typed ‘when is thanksgiving 2011’ and the first result was from About 2012. The second natural result, helpfully, has the right answer.

But, this is a question that has a specific answer; this is not something where I need to see multiple options. There is an answer, and I don’t really care where it comes from, so long as it’s accurate. I don’t need to see ‘about 47,400,000 results’; I only need one result with the correct answer.

Searches elsewhere yield equally terrible results.

Blekko, which claims to ‘slash out’ spam, features a top result about the Southridge Mall’s new anchor, which might launch by Thanksgiving 2011. Blekko’s second result is about Disney moving The Muppets Movie release to Thanksgiving 2011. Both kind of related, but still not answering the question. The third link is to a Catholicism sub-page on, which has a link to the date among 35 other primary, non-sponsored links on the page.

Bing’s ( and by default, Yahoo’s) first result is the same Catholicism sub-page noted above. Buried in a confusing mess of information, the actual date is available on the second result – actually gets it right in its ‘Closest Answer’, and even its number 2 organic result from has the right answer – right there in the search results.

The issue here relates to the difference between being a ‘search’ engine and being an ‘answer’ engine. If the query has only one real answer, perhaps it’s time that search engines stopped delivering ‘results’ and started delivering the right answer.

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