Mr. Bill George Presents

‘Wolfram|Alpha’ Is A Go

In Technology on May 23, 2009 at 7:46 PM

Two words:

Game. Changer.

Wolfram|Alpha has been in the news since it launched a week ago and a lot of people have heard of it, but still don’t get quite get what it is. So I decided you should get it straight from the horse’s mouth:

What Are You?

That’s right, a ‘computational knowledge engine.’ Wolfram|Alpha is indexing all the information it can, and organizing it into a searchable, comparable format. It isn’t nearly complete yet but it is already astonishing.

No one can explain it better than the man himself: The inventor, Mr. Stephen Wolfram. Here is a 13 minute introduction video that first got me amped about the whole project (courtesy of future TIAW contributor Matt Rawding).

Within a few years there is no doubt in my mind this will fundamentally change how we gather information on the internet, and thus, it will change the world. Period.

It’s the ambitiousness of W|A that makes it so amazing. If someone made a computational search engine focused on sports stats, that’d be great. If someone did it using just mathematical and scientific formulas, that’d be good too. If someone made a database full of information on movies and television shows, that’d be quite useful (which it is: IMDB.com).

But instead of jumping between those separate sites, we are talking about one entity. One single location on the web where you can find data on virtually anything: Stocks, websites, formulas, popularity of names, weather, maps, locations, schools, genome sequences, finances, government, music, food, nutritional values, the list goes on. And it is in an easy to read, easy to understand, clean looking format.

Google shows you places you may find what you are looking for, W|A finds what you are looking for. (A whole generation of high schoolers are going to have to find a way to cite this thing ASAP.)

Is it perfect? No. At least not yet. It still doesn’t have NBA stats or information on commercial products, among other things. But both those subjects are  still being indexed along with many others. And sometimes it can be easy to over-think how you want to search for something and W|A gets confused by the input. But that’s where watching the video comes in handy. It gives you a great idea of what it can do and how you can do it. I’ve watched it about 3 or 4 times now and get something new out of it every time.

The best thing to do is just play around with it. One good starting point is looking up your birthday. Or search your first and last names to see their popularity. Or look for your hometown or school. And just experiment from there.

So, for those already familiar with Wolfram|Alpha: sound off in the comments. What’s your take? Or what’s your favorite thing to compute?

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