Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Have you heard of "Wolfram Alpha"?

After the carpet-bombing of tech blogs, I had assumed everyone had already heard of Wolfram Alpha, but in a few conversations with non-techie friends I am learning it is still news to many. This new search engine is an attempt to provide a true alternative to Google. Instead of providing links to web pages in its results, Wolfram Alpha takes a more semantic approach to information and tries to answer the underlying question directly. For example, if you search for "freezing point of water", you get: 0 degrees Celsius along with a series of common conversions to other temperature standards. The same query on Google brings up a list of articles from Wikipedia and the like on the phenomenon of freezing.

Which is better? Ultimately, it depends on what you are looking for. For 99% of what I need a search engine for, Google provides a better summary of the "collective wisdom and knowledge" of the web. But there is that 1% time when I need pure dry facts and Wolfram Alpha provides those quickly and without clutter. I suspect Wolfram Alpha will become a favorite of primary school math and science students looking for exam answers, for example. Still, Wolfram is in the "alpha" stage of development (i.e. the earliest stable form) and may grow into something bigger. It is worth watching and waiting to see.


Sean said...

I had heard of it, but hadn't tried it until tonight. It's great for questions with exact answers. Like put int 'weather tacoma wa' and it gives a full forecast (predicted and historical) as well as all the current conditions. I'll definitely be adding it to my group of search engines. I’m liking it so far, but we'll have to see how long it takes for me to forget about it and move completely back to google to really gauge how good it is.

shadowmom1 said...

I tried it and bookmarked it. Now I havge to remember to use it!