Technology & Social Media

Wolfram Alpha: Has Google met its match?

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Imagine entering a query into your favorite search engine and, instead of getting a list of links in return, the search engine actually answered your question.

That's apparently the premise behind Wolfram Alpha, a Web site that has the tech world buzzing ... and it hasn't even been launched yet.

"In essence, Wolfram Alpha is a frighteningly powerful calculator that is chock full of facts about the world," Nicholas Ciarelli writes in The Daily Beast. "Type in a question in plain English: 'What was the weather in Rancho Mirage when Gerald Ford died?' Wolfram Alpha instantly spits back the temperature, weather conditions, relative humidity and wind speed, followed by a set of neatly formatted tables and charts."

Ciarelli test-drove Wolfram Alpha by entering a number of obscure questions, including:

  • Which European country has the most Internet users?
  • What is the height of the Empire State Building divided by the length of the Triborough Bridge?
  • How do oil exports in Iraq compare to those of Kuwait?
  • What are the monthly payments on a 20-year, 5 percent fixed-rate mortgage with a loan of $200,000?

"Many of these questions can be answered using Google, but only by visiting several different Web sites, assessing the validity of sources and making your own calculations," Ciarelli writes. "Wolfram Alpha simply gives you the answer."

I hadn't heard of Wolfram Alpha before my wife sent me a link to Ciarelli's article, so I asked my Twitter followers what they knew. Dan Scheeler sent me a link to this page of resources on Twine. Read up when you get a chance. In addition, the folks at ReadWriteWeb have chimed in with their first impressions.

So will Wolfram Alpha be the "Google killer" that many are predicting?

"No," writes Frederic Lardinois. "Wolfram Alpha will be an amazing product, but it's quite different from Google and other search engines." Indeed, Wolfram Alpha is more likely to be a "worthy challenger" to Wikipedia than it is to knock Google off its throne, Lardinois says.

Me? I'm skeptical. It's hard to imagine Internet search getting any easier than Google.

But I'll reserve judgment until Wolfram Alpha is launched later this month. And to be honest, I can't wait to try it out.


Bill Sheridan