Wolfram Alpha – Alpha? Really?

The Wolfram Alpha, launched on May 15, 2009, wolframalpha2claims to be a computational engine that has all the answers to your queries.  It has initiated much discussion on whether it will kill Google, taking over as the ultimate search engine, or will simply be a ‘nerdy’ assistant on someone’s science project.

The Atlantic carries an article on the useful features of Wolfram Alpha, and how it really provides answers while search engines like Google and Kosmix only claim to do so.  The writer says that Google only shows us the direction to pages that it thinks are relevant.

ZDNet wonders if Wolfram Alpha is a Wikipedia Killer, while SearchEngineLand.com says that WA is what they would call “Un-Google”. Pretty high praise, also seconded by ITProPortal.com and DailySEOblog.com.

Others are not so sure.  Epicenter says WA simply fails the cool test.  Ryan Singel describes it as “the nerdy kid the other kids only talk to when they need help with a physics exam…”!  I have to agree on that.  WA brings up only facts and figures, no matter what the search term is.  Google, on the other hand, brings up results from all spectrums, from facts and trivia to entertainment and Twitter updates.  If facts are all you want, we do have Wikipedia, which is the input of many people, whereas WA is one entity’s research.  Blogs.com says that Wolfram Alpha is a huge nerd, in spite of its winning computation moments.

Mashable’s post on Wolfram Alpha lists out 5 things that WA does better than Google: complex queries, localization, precision, calculation, and comparison.  I can only imagine a silver-haired science professor working on his post-doctoral, staring with admiration at Wolfram Alpha, lapping up the facts and figures it doles out.  I simply cannot picture me or any other Internet surfer looking for some normal useful info on Wolfram Alpha.

So, who is WA for? CNet News carries the comments of some users who say that WA is for ‘the tech crowd – the kind of people who want to dig into the data’.  Another user says he would not recommend it to normal users as WA is very picky about search terms and accuracy of words and spellings, which difficulty you would never face on Google (italics is mine).

In a lighter vein, one user says how he entered his own name into Wolfram Alpha, and the engine responded with a very curt “Wolfram Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input”!  I received the same response when I searched for this ‘Ad Libitum’, whereas on Google I would have found my Twitter account, a post from this blog, and at least one other human being who has a blog with the same name.

In conclusion, go to Wolfram Alpha by all means, but only when you have some serious facts and figures to crunch, or when your science paper is due tomorrow.  For a more thorough search of the entire online world use Google, or if you want them arranged according to your interests, use Kosmix.  If you want a scholarly look at the topic, look up Wikipedia.

Wolfram Alpha has a long way to go if it wants to nudge out these big fellas…!


Other sites I referred to:

Technology Review

Geeks are Sexy