Wolfram|Alpha Won't Kill Google, Might Answer Your Questions

By May 12, 2009

Wolfram|Alpha is entering the highly-competitive business of answering questions. The project that plans to launch May 18th comes from the developers of Wolfram Mathematica, a comprehensive technical toolkit. The search site bills itself as a "computational knowledge engine." Despite the term "Google-killer" being thrown around at every Search Start-up launch, a replacement for the Mountain View giant is not on the horizon. Instead, a company without unlimited resources would be better served to outperform Google in the sort of Internet Search that needs improvement. That service comes from Wolfram. They actually attempt to do something that a Google search does not - to answer plain language questions, in the familiar format of the search bar.

If they are performing a task that no one has done particularly well so far, that is exciting. The search criteria bring up different results.

An example from David Talbot's Technology Review search comparison:

SEARCH TERM: Sydney New York

WOLFRAM ALPHA: Distance tables, travel time and maps

GOOGLE: Flight finder form, Google Maps business results that contain "Sydney" in New York City, etc.

Talbot provides several results, where Wolfram's engine performs with various degrees of success. While Alpha did not know what to compute when given the input "light bulb," it gives an overwhelming amount of information from "Utah Florida," showing the slant that it gives to comparative data.

While the results seem imperfect at times, Wolfram|Alpha could be useful for resarchers of all levels. MediaPost estimates that fifteen percent of Google users are looking for answers to particular questions that could be better served by such a site as opposed to a list of sites with high indexes.

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