Well. It seems that everyone else has written about it. So it’s probably time I joined the bandwagon.
Wolfram Alpha. It’s quite impressive isn’t it? Type in some terms that it likes and it’ll tell you all about them. Type in comparable items (apple and orange, for example), and it’ll compare them for you. Enter a couple of cities, and it will tell you about the journey between the two and the relative times of sunrise in the respective locations. And it’ll eat complex mathematical formulae for breakfast. *
* As long as lots of other people aren’t using the site at breakfast time, in which case it will apologise in a humorous way for its inability to deal with your request.
But where does it sit? I’ve seen articles asking whether it’s a Google-killer. (None believes it is, but many ask the question.) While I also read one that instead suggests that WA will instead eat into Wikipedia’s traffic.
I don’t think either is true. WA as a site is a flash in the pan. Mathematicians and a few geeks will bookmark it; a tiny proportion of those will make it their homepage.
Yet WA uses a phenomenally powerful semantic technology. It allows certain queries to be parsed quite beautifully to give pertinent, insightful, useful information.
But I don’t want to choose which search engine to turn to based on what I’m looking for. (As an aside, I’d never go to Wikipedia to search for stuff—I rely on Google giving sufficient prominence to Wikipedia results for pertinent queries, such is the travesty that is Wikipedia search.) I want something else to decide which search engine to use and return the results that are most appropriate to my query.
I want search to be good enough for the “I’m feeling lucky” button to be the default. If I search for HMRC, don’t give me a bunch of results; take me straight to the website, maybe with a link in a header bar to its Wikipedia entry, or to wider search results. If I search for y = sin x, take me straight to the WA results page, again with the option of going to the wider results if I so choose.
Google is best placed to integrate search in this way, with such dominance in so many markets and so many eyes looking no further. Whether it develops its own Wolfram Alpha equivalent, buys up their technology, or merely links off to it as it does with Wikipedia remains to be seen.
(As an aside, it’s interesting that Wolfram has registered www.wolfram.com, but not managed to secure www.wolframbeta.com.)