Wolfram Alpha search launches: Interesting, but no threat to Google

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The net is abuzz today over the launch of a new search service that some are saying could compete with Google, which at the moment has no real competition. However, I know Google, and WolframAlpha is no Google. It is something much different, with interesting potential.

The difference between the two is easy to spot. When I pose a question to Google (GOOG), it presents me with sites where I might find my answer. When I pose a question to WolframAlpha, it attempts to answer the question. Think index vs. almanac.

The site has grand plans to "collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model method and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything." At the moment, however, the site seems to be very much in the beta stage, at least according to the searches I tried.

  • Typing in "MGM LVS" produced a nice but brief side-by-side comparison of the financials for these two Las Vegas companies.
  • Typing in "Population Columbus OH 1900" produced the response 125,560. A perfectly acceptable answer.
  • Typing in "Corporate average fuel economy" did not produce an answer.
  • Typing in "CAFE regulations" did not produce an answer.
  • Typing in "Types of fish in the Ohio River" did not produce an answer.
  • Typing in "Meaning of Croatoan" did not produce an answer.
  • Typing in "Macau gambling" did not produce an answer.
  • Typing in "Distance to Jupiter" brought me the answer, 4.917 astronomical units.
  • Typing in "Father of Romulus and Remus" did not produce an answer.
  • Typing in "September 21, 1950" revealed that I was born 21,425 day ago, on Yom Kippur, under a waxing gibbous moon, and share a birth date with Bill Murray.

Typing each of these into Google did bring back useful links each time.

One shouldn't expect much of a child, and in computer years, WolframAlpha is still wet behind the ears. It currently seems useful for computational purposes and almanac-type questions. The fuzzy stuff, however, may take some time. I'd check back in a year to see how much WolframAlpha has grown.

Another approach to Google-jousting is taken by Searchme.com. Its graphical representation of candidate pages is eye-candy, and makes a Google page look as lame as a DOS screen did after Windows hit the computer world. However, its logarithm isn't on par. Since a good search engine is crucial to my job, you'll find me still hanging out at Google.

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