New Web tool WolframAlpha launches test run

May 16, 2009 by Chris Lefkow
Google rules the roost when it comes to Internet search and has easily brushed aside efforts by Yahoo!, Microsoft and others to knock it off its perch. While not a traditional Web search engine, a new challenger is emerging on Friday -- WolframAlpha, named after the man behind the venture, British-born scientist and inventor Stephen Wolfram.

Google rules the roost when it comes to Internet search and has easily brushed aside efforts by Yahoo!, Microsoft and others to knock it off its perch.

While not a traditional Web search engine, a challenger to emerged on Friday -- WolframAlpha, named after the man behind the venture, British-born computer scientist and inventor Stephen Wolfram.

Wolfram, who earned a PhD in from Caltech at the age of 20, is careful not to call his latest invention a , describing it instead as a "computational knowledge engine."

Unlike Google, which takes a query and uses algorithms to scour the Web and return a series of links to relevant websites, WolframAlpha.com takes a query and crunches through its databases to return answers.

"The basic idea of WolframAlpha is very simple," the 49-year-old Wolfram said in an online presentation of his venture, which went live for a test run on Friday. "You type your input, your question and WolframAlpha produces a result."

WolframAlpha had been scheduled to kick off at 8:00 pm Friday (0000 GMT Saturday) but was late out of the gate because of what was described on the company blog as "some kinks."

"We got off to a late start, but so far, so good," it said.

Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of SearchEngineLand.com, said in a telephone interview with AFP that WolframAlpha is a "really interesting tool."

"I try to describe it as a 'fact search engine' to help people understand the degree that it's different from Google," he said. "Google tends to point to stuff while (WolframAlpha) actually have some answers."

He said WolframAlpha was not presenting itself as a rival to Google "although they want to capture the general search audience too.

"They're saying they're not trying to wipe out Google but they feel they do the kinds of searches that Google doesn't handle," Sullivan said. "If you're trying to get facts this might be a handy kind of encyclopedia for you."

However, Sullivan said WolframAlpha "can be kind of finicky."

"It doesn't have answers to everything that you might try," he said. "So you tend to get sort of a dissatisfied feeling if you've done your search and it comes up with nothing for you."

Another problem with WolframAlpha may revolve around sourcing, he said.

"Anytime you do a search they'll tell you where the data has come from and where they're pulling it from," he said. "But, you know, sources from all sorts of places can be wrong.

"So there will still be that issue where some people may feel like 'Hmm ... I don't know if I want to trust this,' in the same way that they don't want to trust Wikipedia sometimes," he said.

Wolfram said WolframAlpha is a "long-term project."

"We're trying to take as much of the world's knowledge as possible and make it computable," he said. "So that anyone, anywhere can just go to the Web and use all that knowledge to compute answers to their specific questions."

Sullivan said WolframAlpha was the most amibitious search project in recent years outside of Microsoft's unsuccessful efforts to steal market share from Google.

"It's a fairly large project they've put together," he said. "They've got like 150 people."

Google dominates online search in the United States with a more than 64 percent share of the market followed by Yahoo! with 20 percent and Microsoft with less than 10 percent, according to industry tracking firms.

Sullivan said that as impressive as WolframAlpha may be, Google just might still be one step ahead.

He noted that the California company earlier this week unveiled a laboratory project called Google Squared which it plans to release later this month.

"What it does is actually trying to go beyond what Wolfram is doing," he said. "Wolfram is gathering information that's been all nicely and neatly put into databases and spreadsheets and everything.

"Google Squared is trying to find information from across the Web and automatically build those kind of spreadsheets for you."

Read PhysOrg.com story: Wolfram Alpha 'Knowledge Engine' is Like a Modern Farmer's Almanac

(c) 2009 AFP

Explore further: Online piracy thrives in Internet cloud: study

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Wolfram Alpha Could Answer Questions that Google Can't

Mar 09, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new search engine described as an "electronic brain" could make searching the Internet more intelligent. Called Wolfram Alpha, the search engine computes its own answers rather than looking ...

Review: Flaws in Web's much-touted WolframAlpha

May 13, 2009

(AP) -- When a free Web service called WolframAlpha launches in the coming days, the general public will get to try a "computational knowledge engine" that has had technology insiders buzzing because of its ...

Google draws upon rival ideas with search changes

Mar 24, 2009

(AP) -- Google Inc. prides itself on setting trends, but it appears to be copying some of its smaller rivals with the latest refinements to the way it displays Internet search results.

Google makes books available online

Nov 03, 2005

Google said Thursday it will make public-domain books available on its Web site -- but said it would limit access to any copyrighted material for now.

Recommended for you

Facebook dressed down over 'real names' policy

16 hours ago

Facebook says it temporarily restored hundreds of deleted profiles of self-described drag queens and others, but declined to change a policy requiring account holders to use their real names rather than drag names such as ...

Yelp to pay US fine for child privacy violation

23 hours ago

Online ratings operator Yelp agreed to pay $450,000 to settle US charges that it illegally collected data on children, in violation of privacy laws, officials said Wednesday.

User comments : 13

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ormondotvos
5 / 5 (1) May 15, 2009
Ah! competition! My first question for WA: "What is Google Squared?"
freemind
not rated yet May 16, 2009
I tried it out and I'm impressed. The only thing is that it's a bit slow, but if they get some more funding they can afford more datacenters (I guess)

Look at these examples: http://www.wolfra...xamples/
earls
not rated yet May 16, 2009
It's like a slimmed down version of Wikipedia. Pretty cool. I guess we'll see its real value if I remember to use it. :)
ealex
not rated yet May 16, 2009
pretty cool, I am impressed.
x646d63
not rated yet May 16, 2009
Meh. I entered six reasonable questions and it couldn't give me any information about any of the six. I'm not saying I could do better, but at least Google would give me something. And google has never called me Dave.
laserdaveb
not rated yet May 16, 2009
and what's wrong with being called Dave???:)
droid001
not rated yet May 16, 2009
I totaly agree with x646d63. Wolfram Alpha still looks very infant, lot of unanswered simple questions, like miss USA 2008.
But it good with mathematics and stocks :)
KBK
1 / 5 (1) May 16, 2009
I don't like it as it provides ANSWERS.

This means, in the long run, is that who builds it's database ends up deciding REALITY for the vast # of it's users.

It comes from Harvard, which is 'skull and bones' territory. It's creator even specifically talks about it being used to 'create reality' for people using data that HE approves of. Think about that for a while. He specifically is upset about all the 'wrong data' out there. Who the hell decides what is right and wrong? Some dipshit program with nice features? And..built by WHO???

It is WRONG..for all the right reasons. Stay the fuck away from it. it's a curse, wrapped in a false skin of candy. It's fucking big brother, you idiots. Don't be foolish enough to embrace it.

Look at this very closely. It is set up for EXTREME abuse..and it will be abused. No doubt. This is big brother in disguise.
kasen
5 / 5 (1) May 17, 2009
On a more lunatic side, the name of the project, its long-term nature and the nature of its designer(child prodigy and all) suggest to the crazy-person within me that this guy is looking to transfer his conscience in the Internet. This knowledge engine basically provides a working brain, in a way, albeit lacking ample input(sensory or otherwise) and an internal driving force, like consciousness or a hard coded kill-all-humans directive. The input problem gets solved by the users, and once the network becomes large enough to accommodate one, Mr. Wolfram provides a conscience. If it doesn't grow one of its own, that is. Probably by 12.12.2012.
At any rate, we should watch this guy carefully. Anybody who gets a PhD at 20 has to be evil. And should be kept in a jar.
Noumenon
1 / 5 (1) May 17, 2009
Lol, good one Kasen. Ironically, Tin-hat KBK probably voted for democrats, who of course are the ones wanting more government control in your life.
CaptBarbados
not rated yet May 17, 2009
This is an excellent start! It's already married to Google Maps and such. Both systems will deliver incredible analytical power. Free.

Give it five years and we'll be wired in to the freakin' thing I suppose...
denijane
not rated yet May 18, 2009
I don't think it will define reality any more than Google does. Google results are not that unpredictable that people think. It has been hacked already to mess with some people/groups-like scientologists and many people do mess with Google results for living. Yes, they usually do it for commercial sites, but they can as well do it for political sites and so on.

My point is that it's not the search engine that defines reality but the desire of the user to know more. If you need a specific knowledge-like a date or a quality, I guess both engines will be good. If you want to know more about something-then Google or Kosmix.com will be better. Question of needs.
GottMeinFuhrer
not rated yet May 19, 2009
Enter, "What is the meaning of life?" into the Wolfram|Alpha search bar! Hilarious!