Wolfram Alpha Reviews
British physicist-turned-software developer Stephen Wolfram today officially launched his new internet search engine, Wolfram Alpha.
It first went live Friday for ‘pre-launch testing’ and answered 13.7million queries from people all over the world. But reactions to this so-called computational-knowledge engine have been mixed, with some users admiring its ability to find the solution to complex problems, and others grumbling that it can’t answer simple queries. Some have criticized the depth and accuracy of the information provided by Wolfram Alpha, saying that some queries even produced old data. Here are some views from the web:
“Obviously it was never going to slay Google on its first day. But after watching Stephen Wolfram’s pre-launch screencast I did believe it was at least going to be a credible alternative information source, offering authoritative and structured answers in a way no traditional search engine could aspire to. Sadly, now Wolfram Alpha’s here it turns out that it doesn’t bloody know anything.”
“While that is pretty cool, it’s not exactly something I’d need to use every day, nor something I could easily explain to typical Web users. Additionally, when trying more Google-like searches, like trying to find a Las Vegas hotel room, there doesn’t seem to be much that Wolfram Alpha can do to help. But, that also doesn’t really seem to be the point of Wolfram Alpha – at least for now.”
“Wolfram Alpha, however, brings with it a brand that is to academia what Honda is to cars. Reliable, progressive, smart, and respected. I was using Mathematica in the 10th grade and it remains a powerful tool. A few minutes with Alpha suggests that it just might be a similarly powerful tool. So powerful, in fact, that said librarians may have a much harder time debating its reliability.
Alpha just might be something that librarians embrace and add to their repertoire of research tools. No more searching through ad-supported hits on Google to simply remember those facts that we no longer need to commit to memory or find answers to more sophisticated questions; a few minutes using Alpha will convince the most reluctant of educators.”
“WolframAlpha is obviously not indexing the whole Web. Instead, it’s scouring its own knowledge database and using heuristic-like smarts—mostly based around mathematics—to help you get to really interesting, useful, and factual information. It’s that last part that has people calling this a possible Wikipedia killer. The online encyclopedia, which is built largely by volunteers, is often called to task for the inaccuracies and hoaxes foisted upon it and its hapless users. I contest that there’s a tremendous amount of valuable and factual information in Wikipedia, but it could use some cleanup and much better checks and balances.
WolframAlpha, though, is different. The information comes from Wolfram employees, third-party partners, and paid freelancers. How scalable is this idea? I have no idea. All I can say is that Stephan Wolfram is imparting the same kind of care and clarity he brought to the more-than-two-decade-old Mathematica math software product to WolframAlpha. If you think about what people do with something like Mathematica, then you understand the strategy and ethos behind WolframAlpha.”
Dan Nosowitz of Gizmodo was not all impressed, as he tweeted: “Wolfram Alpha, the dorktastic computational search engine, got off to a bit of a rocky start when it launched last night. At least its first fail message had the foresight to include a HAL reference. As it’s an alpha, we’re not too bothered that it’s run into some overload problems. Hey, at least people are using it, right? But be warned, Wolfie: A pithy error message can only charm us for so long.”