Officially, the new Wolfram Alpha search tool launched on Monday, May 18. I don’t think there’s any special correlation with Victoria Day in Canada, though. What there is, however, is a buzz of hype in the press about the new “Google Killer” and talk about how Monday will mark the end of Google’s reign as Search King.
If you’re a little skeptical about those claims, you have good reason to be. One look at the site, without even using it, and you’ll know why the popular press is so often just…well, lame.
Reading a few words on the main page of the site and even a non-rocket scientist can understand that Wolfram Alpha is nothing like Google. The only thing they have in common is that someone visiting the site plans to “search” for something. What you’re looking for specifically, though, is going to be different on each site.
Google searches for websites. Wolfram Alpha searches for answers.
So Google can sit back, relax, and ignore the hype. Which is a good thing, because they have plenty of other stuff to worry about already. Like fines in the EU and possible anti-trust suits here in the USA.
Back to Wolfram Alfa, though. If you’re in the US or Europe, the site is likely up and functional for you, so you can go check it out (after you’re done reading this, of course).
If you don’t know already, Wolfram Alpha is a contextual/semantic search engine wherein you can input your question (like “what is 1+1”) and get an answer (<strike>3</strike>2). You can also get a little more complicated and say “O, great Oz, what is 1+1 in the infinity of time?” To which it will respond:
To tell the truth, you can ask it a lot of questions and generally get the answer you’re looking for. At least, if your questions are about facts, figures, mathematics, or something similar. It won’t tell you the secret to understanding women, how many licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, or anything very philosophical.
The database that Wolfram pulls from is growing by the hour as the team at Wolfram Alpha keep stuffing data into the matrix. The semantic search is much better than the old “Ask Jeeves” that was supposed to revolutionize the ‘Net.
So far, Wolfram Alpha is off to a pretty good start. I suspect it will be a while before it can really become popular, but for now, science geeks and people with too much time on their hands (you can guess which one of those I am) can play with it and get some interesting results.
Personally, I’m waiting for the “Jive Talking Wolfram” Firefox plugin.