Monday, May 18, 2009

Wolfram Alpha Goes Live, What Does That Mean For You

discover cardWolfram Alpha, the newest kid on the search engine block has launched with a flurry of web excitement, but what does that mean for us regular folks? Personally I say not much and here's why.

Wolfram Alpha was written by Steven Wolfram, a British physicist, mathematician, and businessman and the author of the Mathematica software. The site which claims to be the internet's first "computational knowledge engine" is not your standard search engine. Instead it generates results by doing computations from its own internal knowledge base, instead of using spiders to search the web and return links.

The focus of the new service is truly different from other engines as it's scope is more related to history, mathematics and science. Attempting to provide direct answers and factual knowledge to questions related to the subject matter at hand. The service avoids the more traditional searches and will rarely yield results related to such things as as pop culture references.

Wolfram Alpha's "answer engine" would be more comparable to sites like Wikipedia or than it would a tradition search engine like Google, Yahoo or While currently the site has fewer articles and the range of answers might be limited, it provides more pertinent information on the topics it covers as well as a bit more accuracy than that of Wikipedia or Answers.

What this all really means is that for everyday searching Wolfram Alpha wouldn't be very effective to use. For research or education purposes however the site would be very useful. As per example plugging in any date (e.g. a birth date) june 23, 1988 provides a detailed overview of the date in history. When entering in any calculation $250 + 15% or any math formula x^2 sin(x) you get a very detailed answer that would be very useful for homework help.

While it might be a little early in the game to judge Wolfram Alpha when it comes to comparisons with Wikipedia and Google I'll say that I don't see myself using it that much at least not at this time. The fact that they allow user submitted content might mean that the site may eventually contain enough results to catch my attention, however I believe if its not broke don't fix it and the combination of Google and Wikipedia have worked well for me.

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