When alpha is better than beta

Published May 16, 2009

The Wolfram|Alpha search engine went live today, and it’s really, really cool. It’s not meant to be any kind of competition to Google, and in fact, links off to the Goog if you want to find web links related to your search term. Wolfram’s mission is to collate knowledge and give you hard facts about a given subject.

For example:

Wolfram Alpha screenshot

Searching for my own name gives me information on how popular it is, age distribution, expected number of people alive with that name, etc. I had great fun searching for countries, to view maps, the flag, population and more. A search on a past date gives you more information than you could ever need, including what the moon was up to, how long ago it was in days and any notable births or deaths.

Rather than a Google-killer, this is more a Wikipedia-killer, as the information in here is bound to be more reliable than the waffle that can sometimes be found on the people’s encyclopaedia. The layout of Wolfram’s search page is really very neat, tidy and accessible, and it makes a change to find what you want and leave, rather than getting sucked into the wiki-world of endless link-clicking.

The guy behind the engine, Stephen Wolfram has been developing the collation of data for nearly 30 years, so it’s definitely something that has had plenty of time to evolve. I can see myself using this in the future - especially if they made a Googlepedia type plugin to display results side by side. Anyway, it’s highly recommend that you check it out, if only to have a look at another way facts and figures can be collected and displayed.

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