As powerful a tool as Google Search is, it is also a source of great confusion and an eater of time. Unless you use the Advanced Search capability, simple search results may require you to wade through hundreds of documents of little value to your query. There is also no way to know whether the quality of the information you find represents facts or fancy. Hence the evolution of new search utilities is inevitable.
This article is part one of a two part discussion on the most recent newcomers to the Internet search scene. In this article we take a quick look at Wolfram|Alpha. In part two we will explore Microsoft Bing.
Stephen Wolfram is the mind behind Wolfram|Alpha. A scientist and mathematician, Wolfram has made the long-term goal of this venture to make knowledge accessible to anyone using state-of-the-art and science, computing models, methods and algorithms. With Wolfram|Alpha you enter a question in natural language and receive an answer.
You can try it out to see the results. I give you some examples of queries I have made:
I asked Wolfram|Alpha to "compare Canada and Australia population." It came back with results in report format that compared total population, history, value comparisons and demographics.
You can ask Wolfram|Alpha to give you information about a historical event. I asked "fall of Constantinople," (If you want to know why I picked that subject, I studied Medieval History, Islamic and Byzantine Studies in university). Here was the result:
It was nice to see that it knew what I knew and even gave me other phrases or words to look up to obtain even more background information.
This is pretty powerful stuff. But what Wolfram|Alpha appears to be very good at is solving mathematical equations and problems. Its algorithms and computing methods lend themselves to that type of query.
Here is another example. I asked Wolfram|Alpha to give answer the following problem "1283 times 56." It came back with the following:
Wolfram|Alpha describes itself as a work in progress. On its site it claims to contain 10+ trillion pieces of data, 50,000+ algorithms and models, and linguistic capabilities for over 1,000 domains.
As Wolfram|Alpha develops it is attempting to systematically cover the content available from the world's reference libraries. Future plans involve expanding coverage in science, technology, economics and popular culture.
Wolfram|Alpha has attempted to create a way to enter questions in a more natural language than Google Search or other search engines. I found, however, that it was easy to confuse Wolfram|Alpha when stating a query in natural language and often had it come back with an answer that required me to rethink the way I posed the question. This left me a bit frustrated. But the more I play with this tool the more impressed I am by its potential to provide a new means of doing meaningful online research.
There's lots of online help at the Wolfram|Alpha site and I encourage you to see how you can utilize this new research tool in your businness and lives. If anything it should help your children with their math homework.