WolframAlpha – computational search

wolframalpha_icon It is a nasty quirk that when I mention something in the post it starts to slip my mind that it could really use a proper write-up. I had briefly mentioned WolframAlpha is the post about going beyond Google in search.

WolframAlpha is a site that describes itself as computational knowledge engine. Let’s go over what that is and is that worth using.

What it does

Basically WolframAlpha is non-web search engine. Instead of trying to index and search all if Internet it tries to interpret and run your query against its own database. Admittedly its database in turn gets filled from fitting Internet sources (among other unnamed things).

wolframalpha_interface

The point is that instead of giving you something site gives you precise scientific/statistical data.

Strong features

  • many many kinds of supported data;
  • in many cases site not only gives you answer, but actually performs calculations to get it;
  • similar data sets can be easily compared (stocks of two companies, weather of two cities and whatever else);
  • for many queries (like weather or financial data) there is history of changes over years.

Downsides

The display of results is sluggish. In age of effort to make web faster WolframAlpha really takes its time to think before giving you an answer. This isn’t terribly bad, but not too suitable for chains of rapid queries.

The strength of specific data is also the weakness. There is no way to know if you will get an answer until you try.

Overall

At worst this is a killer calculator. At best (that is site works well with specific data you need) it is awesome computational mechanism with potential to save you plenty of time.

Link http://www.wolframalpha.com/

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4 Comments

  • Wolfram is actually based in the same town I work in.

    Many speculated that Wolfram|Alpha would be a Google killer but it’s settled into its own nice little niche.

  • @Jason H

    Sadly Google killer is slapped on everything that searches. At worst by developers themselves, at best by dumb tech journalists.

    WolframAlpha made a splash when launched, but I think it feels more than comfortable without any desire or need to be Google killer. It does its own thing – extremely well.

  • @Jason H

    Search engines seem to like easter eggs. I can easily imagine bunch of programmers setting such trap and sitting staring at logs, waiting for someone to query it. :)

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