Wolfram Alpha – The New Search Engine?

By Avelyn Austin | May 20, 2009
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Wolfram Alpha search bar

With all the buzz around the newly launched Wolfram Alpha I think it’s time to clear up a few misconceptions. This post is dedicated to defining: What Wolfram Alpha is? Who Wolfram Alpha is competing against? And what type of queries Wolfram Alpha will be used for?

What is Wolfram Alpha?

Wolfram Alpha is a “computational knowledge engine”. The long term goal of Wolfram Alpha “is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. [It aims] to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything. [Wolfram Alpha’s] goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries”. (About Wolfram Alpha)

Who is Wolfram Alpha competing against?

In many of the blogs and articles I’ve been reading about Wolfram Alpha, individuals are comparing it to Google. Many times they’re saying that Wolfram Alpha will never be the new Google, which is absolutely right; however, it should be clarified that Wolfram Alpha is not trying to be the new Google. Instead, Wolfram Alpha is more closely competing against Wikipedia as it serves up “factual information” to a query rather than providing a list of websites that may contain the answer to your query like Google does. The difference between Wolfram Alpha and Wikipedia is that anyone can update a Wikipedia page while the Wolfram Alpha results cannot be edited by the average Joe (perhaps making the Wolfram Alpha results more creditable).

What type of queries will Wolfram Alpha be used for?

Wolfram Alpha will most likely be used as an extra resource for students. Unlike Wikipedia, which is not seen as an “acceptable” source for research papers (at least not in the James Madison University Marketing Department), Wolfram Alpha may be viewed as a credible resource. Therefore, Wolfram Alpha may be used much like an encyclopedia or almanac to get facts about dates, events, locations, etc.

In summary, Wolfram Alpha is a “computational knowledge engine” that may be used much like an encyclopedia or almanac to get information about specific dates, events, locations, etc. Wolfram Alpha is not attempting to be the new Google, but instead may become a close competitor for Wikipedia.

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