Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Is Wolfram|Alpha The Next Google Killer?

Wolfram Alpha
Since the word leaked out a few weeks back about Wolfram|Alpha, it has taken quite a hype. In many camps, it's being dubbed as the next Google killer. But would it really live upto it's hype? Let's first see what Wolfram|Alpha actually is before we start drawing conclusions.

Created using Mathematica, Wolfram|Alpha is not a conventional search engine. Rather, it's a computational knowledge engine. Long story cut short, it is a place to look up for facts, facts in the field of which would be backed up with analytics and stats, and it's ability to do sophisticated computations to achieve these. Why do we need something that has computational power? Because computation is what turns generic information into specific answers. According to Stephen Wolfram, the creator of Wolfram|Alpha, "It tries to tell us useful information based on what it can compute", he also said that "The goal is to provide expert level access to anyone at anytime."

For example, if you give Wolfram|Alpha a mathematical formula, a polynomial say, or something involving sines and cosines, it will give you back a number of useful results: a graph of the function, a list of its zeros, factored and expanded forms, and more. And it will give you the derivative and integral of the function you entered. Now, computing the derivative of an arbitrary function is a straightforward process, but computing integrals can be among the most difficult problems in mathematics.

Larry Dignan of Between The Lines said, "The Wolfram|Alpha search engine seemed slow, according to Wolfram. What will happen when the public starts poking around on it?." Frederic Lardinois of Read Write Web, who had participated in a one hour web demo by Stephen Wolfram, says that Wolfram|Alpha would be available in 2 flavors. A free web version, and a paid version, which would allow users to download and upload data to Alpha. It would also allow users to embed not just a Wolfram|Alpha search box on their own pages, but they will also be able to embed results and a custom Alpha portal on their own sites. Users will also be able to receive email alerts when a result changes.

A year or so back, Cuil was termed as the next Google killer. Today how many of us swear by Cuil? I doubt it would be a large number. So how will Wolfram|Alpha do? With the academic types it would probably be like a gift of God. But what about the mainstream internet searchers? How many of them would be interested in these type of search results? Would Wolfram|Alpha click with them? I doubt.

And the question that remains in the heart of millions of mainstream internet searchers, would it be able to search for porn? Probably no, and even if it did, it would present lots of stats with it. Now who needs porn with stats!

And just in case you want to join the Wolfram Alpha hype, here's the Wolfram|Alpha blog and their Facebook group. You can also follow them on Twitter here.

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