Wolfram Alpha

I have been saying for some time that I think Wolfram Alpha is overhyped. Now that it’s launched, I haven’t seen anything to change that opinion. Mashable is having fun with what they consider Easter eggs, and the demos are impressive, but I still am lacking a use case. Google already does basic math. I can already get basic information about New York City from Wikipedia. What is the added value here?

Now, if it could answer a question like “what is the median income in new york city?” then I can see why I would go there. But it cannot. The same query typed into Google leads me to Wikipedia where the question is answered. So, it’s got good buzz. Wolfram is behind it, it would be hard to imagine that it didn’t have that buzz. Nothing wrong with this–unless I’m wrong (and that rarely happens), this will fall out of the buzz cycle in a few weeks, and fade into the woodwork. Yes, others might have said that about Mathematica, at their own peril. And I certainly wish no ill will to the project. I just don’t see its place in most user’s search process. I also worry a little that the buzz around a new search engine will lead to hype exhaustion–so I worry about crying Wolf.

But let a thousand flowers bloom. If this really is a revolution, I will be entirely happy to be wrong.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted 5/18/2009 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    I think that more than anything what Wolfram Alpha points to is how used/normalized to the results we get from google and similar web-page search engines that we are. We expect a certain kind of functional context that we get entirely differently from Alpha. Some people really do not like the change, nor see the change as ‘just different’ but always different in relation to (google), and such. That’s sort of interesting too.

  2. Posted 5/25/2009 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    Alex
    this stephen wolfam guy is a bit of a stretch. his recent book A NEW KIND OF SCIENCE was self published with profitrs from sales of Mathematica program and he hired a big PR agency to set up a fake bestseller statisic on amazon.,con, which listed his book as number one bestseller whiich cause NYTimes and AP and reuters to write about his book which was a complete sham and a fraud. This ALPHA is going nowhere. the man is a complete BSer……but i like his spirit none the less.

    More importantly,, ALEX. do you think we need a new word for reading online versus reading on paper? i call it screening., see my blogs here

    and email me I am in taiwan, reporter blogger editor ideaman here.

    Dr Anne Mangen in Norward told me re my screenign idea
    my first impression is that the term *****”screening” is adequate in some
    respects, but *****not in others. It’s adequate to the extent that it
    points to certain differences in the reading mode which has to do with
    the display nature, the central *****bias of a screen compared to a page of
    print text (our gaze is *****naturally oriented towards the center), and
    the image-like character of modalities (we ******tend to read a screen
    spatially, in *****contrast to the page which we linearly). It is not
    adequate insofar as it does not discriminate between different kinds
    of screening – we can also screen a print text (scan, filter, skim
    etc.), and we perceive different kinds of screens differently (compare
    the TV with the cell phone, the e-book with the laptop).

    Regards,
    Anne Mangen
    Dr. art., førsteamanuensis Ph. D., associate professor
    National Centre for Reading Research and Education Universitetet i
    Stavanger University of Stavanger screening

  3. Posted 6/10/2009 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    I tried it out using random, but common enough, queries (“airfare to delhi”, “recipe for lasagna”) and in almost every case I could think of I got null results or “Wolfram Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your inputs.” I did get results for “calories in Big Mac” — but I also got those from the results summary of the top Google links, too.

    I posted my findings on Reddit and got blasted by W|A apologists who said I’d completely missed the point.

    Maybe I did. But I suspect that if someone like me can’t figure out what W|A is supposed to be *for*, then it’s probably W|A that’s missing the point.

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