I'll keep this a succinct as possible.
I'm going to say here that Google is at a crossroads. At some point this idea that we are striving for rankings and organic traffic is going to fall flat on its face.
The crossroads right now is this ever growing "answer box" search result and where this leaves me (and perhaps you) in the overall scheme of things. But bigger than that, you have one arm of Google trying to fetch the best results (websites) possible (Cutts) vs. some new arm that doesn't want the best results, it simply wants the best answer. So one aspect of Google (Cutts) is seeking out the best possible and most authoritive site only to have that content in the box and listed as a source link. Sure, feed me an entree after I just ate an entree. Is this madness? If you don't think that's a dilemma, then you have little insight into the future.
So how does Google suddenly go from finding the best results to seeking out the best answer and producing the most robust and expansive answer/information seeker? Well we all know that they wanted to assemble the worlds information. One problem. Where does that leave you in the overall scheme of things?
We can debate what is a "safe" zone. We can like Cutts said recently, hope that we become the chosen one for the box and that somehow becomes the new Adsense for webmasters. People are silly. If this is a desired placement being in the box, then do tell how that is a win, especially considering that the technology to grab that content in a concise way is growing more superior. I've seen it. Haven't you?
I'm a bit baffled. There is a malaise. I'm not sure, but to me this has everything to do with Cutts not being around. There was no mention of the knowledge graph expanding at the Google I/O and how they really more than ever wanted to provide you the visitor the answer. Oh yes, if it's a video, apparently for now you get sent to YouTube. Wonder why?
The point is, my webmastering is at a crossroads also. If things stayed the same, then no worries. However it appears to me that a new algo has been released which is grabbing more answers/steps than I've ever seen. Perhaps nobody around here actually searches anything. No idea.
I'm curious though. What is your strategy moving forward or are you arrogant enough to believe that what you provide is beyond what this evolving algo can manage. Quite frankly I can't see this lasting long term. At some point people might wake up. However, if this is the litmus test here, then perhaps we are a long ways off from really thinking this is a threat.
Lastly, I have in another thread asked about why you want to be the one in that box. You content in that box, with the answer, and your link at the bottom of that box. How is your link not redundant? Has anyone actually assembled data to see the click through rate? What is the upside? Perhaps I need chase the goal of being the chosen content in the box. No idea.
What I can say is that Google and the head of search is going to have to spend a lot of double double talking. How to make your site better does what? Making your content useful means what? If you give the best answer to a search, why would you benefit if you or somebody else is put into the box? I just don't get it. This forum is about SEO but how do you SEO your way on this one?