A few years ago, if you spoke of search engines, one would perhaps speak of Yahoo or AltaVista or even MSN as the search engines of yore. Then came Google and almost swept the search engine market in one great sweep. Nowadays if you talk of search engines, almost everyone would swear by Google as it has indeed revolutionized the way we search for information online. The complex algorithms that Google contains are able to crunch millions of sites and bring up those particular sites that are most appropriate for our needs. It has also brought about the revolutionary concept of search engine optimization that helps online marketers ensure that their sites get pride of place in the search engine ranks and thereby get a major share of online traffic in the online war of eyeballs.
This is now set to change with the new search engine that already made waves even before its very launch. This site is Wolfram Alpha – http://www.WolframAlpha.com and is the creation of Dr. Stephen Wolfram. He announced it in March 2009, and released to the public on May 15, 2009. Dr. Stephen Wolfram is one of the most distinguished and celebrated mathematicians, scientist, business leader and Internet expert par excellence. He has authored path-breaking books like “A New Kind of Science” and is also the creator of Mathematica. This is a revolutionary product that changes the way of computation, simulation, visualization, development and deployment of technical solutions that is indeed taking the world by storm. It may be amazing to know that born in London and educated in Oxford and Caltech, Stephen Wolfram had his PhD at the young age of 20. He was well known for computational scientific advancements in the form of SMP, which was the first modern computer algebra system that was later released for commercial purposes way back in 1981.
Wolfram Alpha is touted to be a computational search engine and not exactly a traditional search engine like Google, Yahoo etc. In many ways, this search engine is great because it is also called a fact search engine. These days, when you generally look up a common search engine, you would see a listing of web pages that contain the keywords typed by you while you search for information on the World Wide Web. For instance, if you typed out the word ‘eggplant’, you would get page upon page containing the word eggplant and these would be listed based on ranks that the search engine assigns to these web pages based on various search engine optimization criteria and algorithms that search up the pages.
With Wolfram Alpha, the situation is going to change as the search would not throw up separate pages but rather provide direct answers to the questions asked. For example if you search for “eggplant” in Wolfram Alpha, it will give you its average nutrition facts data such as its total calories, fat, cholesterol etc. however NO links will be provided to any website. This creates a total break from the earlier concept and mode as mentioned above.
The way Wolfram Alpha works can be better illustrated by another example. For example, if you do a search on New York City, you will get one single and comprehensive page that dwells at length on the city and various aspects thereof – including its history, geography, economy, climate and many other categories of information that you may not even have conceived. What’s more – you will also get a whole range of statistics as well as facts and figures in a way that it seems like a doctoral dissertation and source file of a wealth of information that presents vast and almost unfathomable encyclopedia of data that is quite enough to take your breath away. The information is presented in an easy and lucid way that is extremely simple to comprehend and come with charts and figures that makes it very comprehensive. In short, Wolfram Alpha is going to be like nothing that the search engine world has seen or imagined before.
If you look at the conventional search engines, they employ algorithms and techniques to crawl the data available online through Internet ‘spiders’ that crawl through the millions of web pages available to bring lists that seem to be the most appropriate and matches a query string put to use by the web browser. This is not the way that Wolfram Alpha wants to go about presenting data and getting it to you the moment you decide to search up something online. Wolfram Alpha looks up many traditional as well as public and private information sources to gather information which is then validated painstakingly by a huge and dedicated staff of almost 150 people who clean and index the data properly so that it can be presented in a manner that suits the web searcher the best. So in a way, this search engine does make use of human ingenuity and intervention to ensure that data is validated and is not just presented mechanically and robotically. In conventional search engines, the validation as well as cleaning and clearing up of data is not possible and it is up to the reader to assess the veracity and reliability of the data that has been thrown up. So, whether it is a scholar, a spammer or scammer who is the source of the data is for you to determine as authenticity is not guaranteed.
Another important feature of Wolfram Alpha is the presentation of charts and statistics. If you want population figures, it may be easy to pull up the trends and make a chart yourself on excel. But what Wolfram Alpha does is to look at many sources of data put out by the government and then make charts and tables of it in a matter of seconds as if it were just a simple search. At the core of this is the computational science that goes into defining Wolfram Alpha as the search engine of the new century –suited to the ever-changing needs of the tech-savvy generation of today as well as tomorrow.
Wolfram Alpha represents a veritable quantum leap in the field of search engines and computational searching online. It is true that this search engine has its limitations, which are essentially linked somewhat to the veracity of its sources. If some data is not present or has been stopped from being published, it is quite true that even Wolfram Alpha would get it wrong and present data that is less than authentic. However, the basic way in which it searches and presents data is quite path breaking to say the least.
Did you try Wolfram Alpha? What are your thoughts about this great search engine?