The Wolfram|Alpha API Has Arrived!

October 15, 2009
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Schoeller Porter
Posted by

On behalf of the Wolfram|Alpha API team, I am pleased to announce the launch of the Wolfram|Alpha Webservice API.

The response to Wolfram|Alpha and the interest from the community in using the API to build innovative computational knowledge applications has been staggering. Since Wolfram|Alpha launched in May, developers anticipating the release of the API have been sending us their ideas for how they want to use Wolfram|Alpha in their applications. I stopped counting after the 2000th idea crossed my desk. Overwhelmingly, developers see Wolfram|Alpha as a platform for building a business—providing commercial services that leverage Wolfram|Alpha’s unique capabilities.

We’ve seen interest across a wide range of areas for which the developer community wants to use Wolfram|Alpha—researching cancer through computational biology, augmenting web and meta-web search with computed knowledge, enriching online journalism with interactive content, building artificial intelligence systems on our domain expertise, leveraging our data analysis for decision support, optimizing renewable-energy efficiency, and even determining the optimal temperature for draft beer based on the current weather conditions. Clearly, a straightforward API that enables applications to access advanced computations based on trusted information and backed up by a supercomputer-class infrastructure invites developers to explore ideas that were not otherwise possible.

The API is the first of many products and services within the growing Wolfram|Alpha developer ecosystem, from computed data services to GUI-based tools for building interactive web applications that seamlessly integrate into your website.

The API allows your application to interact with Wolfram|Alpha much like you do on the web—you send a web request with the same query string you would type into Wolfram|Alpha’s query box and you get back the same computed results. It’s just that both are in a form your application can understand. There are plenty of ways to tweak and control the results, as well. You can read all about that in the documentation.

The Wolfram|Alpha developer community has already proved itself to be as involved and imaginative as any. There are two ways to get started and become a part of this vibrant community. First, you can register for an API account and explore and experiment on your own. Or, if you’ve got the next Big Idea(TM), let me know. Let’s see what fresh and ingenuous ways we can apply computational knowledge and change the world.

28 Comments

Does this mean there’ll be an iPhone app coming, officially or not?

Posted by Bergamot October 15, 2009 at 4:53 pm Reply

I’m surprised that no one has said this yet, so I’ll step up.

This is *massively* expensive.

Releasing an API without offering developers any way to build client libraries for Ruby, Python, and other languages short of ponying up $60 to test their client (or even offering a sandbox for sample data) is a bit much.

I’d be interested in putting together a Ruby library for interfacing with Alpha that would abstract the work of creating a request and parsing the response, making integration a snap for other developers and enabling deeper integration with Alpha around the web. I’ve thought a bit about how that might look, too:

===
query = WolframAlpha::Query.new(:query => ’7.5 parsecs in light years’)
response = query.execute

response.pods.keys.map(&:title)
=> ['Input Interpretation', 'Result', 'Additional Conversions', 'Comparison as distance', 'Interpretations,' 'Corresponding Quantity']

response.pods['Result']
=> ’24.5 light years’
===

But with such a strong financial disincentive to develop for the platform, it’s not likely that I’ll register as a developer to create something like this. Feel free to contact me if terms change.

Cheers,

- Scott

Posted by Scott (@cscotta) October 15, 2009 at 10:25 pm Reply

    Ask for the pioneer grant mentioned in the pricing schedule. That should put you in communication with someone with whom you can discuss acceptable terms for what you have in mind.

    Posted by Brian Gilbert October 16, 2009 at 10:53 am Reply

    Actually, I have written some Python bindings for the api that are available here http://bit.ly/EMmEh which is on the api site under language bindings here http://products.wolframalpha.com/api/webserviceapi.html

    There are other bindings including Ruby, PHP, PERL and NET with plans for others.

    I was in the preview program for the api as an independent consultant/developer.

    Derik Pereira

    Posted by Derik Pereira October 20, 2009 at 6:22 pm Reply

    I’ve written a wolfram alpha ruby wrapper in the dev preview.

    It’s at http://github.com/ianwhite/wac

    Example of use (in irb – and #to_s makes for eaier reading)

    a = Wac.query(“7.5 parsecs in light years”)

    => q: “7.5 parsecs in light years”

    a.fetch

    => a:
    – Input interpretation: convert 7.5 pc (parsecs) to light years
    – Result: 24.5 ly (light years)
    – Additional conversions: 2.31×10^14 km (kilometers)
    – Comparison as distance: ~~ 1.5×10^6 x astronomical unit ( 1.49597870692×10^11 m )
    – Interpretations: length [More...]
    – Corresponding quantity: Light travel time t in vacuum from t = x/c:
    | 24 years

    You can iterate over the sub-results, grabbing images etc

    a.result.map {|r| r.img['src']}

    The code is on github, so you can see how the api works by looking there ;)

    Posted by Ian White October 29, 2009 at 4:47 pm Reply

Why is the API so expensive? Nobody would write client libraries for this because doing basic unit testing would cost hundreds of dollars.

Posted by john October 16, 2009 at 3:51 am Reply

    “Why is the API so expensive? Nobody would write client libraries for this because doing basic unit testing would cost hundreds of dollars.”

    That is actually very cheap in terms of development costs.

    Posted by Ishmael October 16, 2009 at 10:48 am Reply

      Are you being sarcastic? Name another API that costs several hundred dollars just to develop client-side libraries for. The absolute minimum cost for a startup to use this service is at $2000 per month… and you only get 25,000 total requests which comes out to be 800 requests a day. Some of our destinations perform almost 800 requests a SECOND. Most new startups are just struggling to pay their own rent, there’s going to be zero innovation here with a cost barrier that high.

      It’s crazy to think that if I were to do a simple computation like “12 – 7″, it would cost me 8 cents to do it.

      Posted by john October 16, 2009 at 4:03 pm Reply

This isn’t exciting news?

Something is wrong.

Posted by Ishmael October 16, 2009 at 8:48 am Reply

The pricing is ridiculous. You are still NOBODY on the Internet, YOU should pay developers and beg them to try your API.

Posted by Aleksey October 16, 2009 at 4:04 pm Reply

We need some access free to the API. The service is very expensive.

Posted by Maikel October 16, 2009 at 4:10 pm Reply

Why not copy the successful model from Apple App Store?

Posted by Wallace October 17, 2009 at 12:20 am Reply

You should seriously consider a free, low request count plan. There is no incentive for me to build useful tools around your API with such prices. As a programmer and scientist, this seriously makes me doubt that wolfram has a sincere interest in making wolframalpha a global educational tool. Not everyone is trying to build a business around learning and computational knowledge.

Posted by gabriel October 17, 2009 at 1:32 am Reply

Scraping: Free
API: $$$

something is wrong here.

Posted by Mark October 17, 2009 at 9:19 pm Reply

Scratch my previous comment… I see the terms of service disallow scraping.

Posted by Mark October 17, 2009 at 9:32 pm Reply

I’m looking forward until the next announcement “The Wolframalpha API has arrived – and is free for developers”.

You are going to struggle to get a large number of people contributing towards helping you grow without providing free access.

Good Luck though.

Posted by Justin October 19, 2009 at 6:58 am Reply

yaaa…I’m looking also for the next announcement:) I hope it will be soon

Posted by magazin virtual October 19, 2009 at 2:05 pm Reply

[...] week we’re seeing some of the diversity of what can be done. The API as a tool for developers. The iPhone app as a consumer product. And Homework Day as a community event that [...]

Posted by Wolfram|Alpha Blog : A Big Week for Wolfram|Alpha October 20, 2009 at 2:06 pm Reply

I’m on the same boat as everyone else here. I was *shocked* at the pricing.

First of all, developers need at least a few hundred free queries per day just to explore ideas. Second, if a developer were to create something useful using the API, his/her application would need to pay for itself. There’s not a business model in existence that could pay the Wolfram API bill.

Posted by Tyler October 29, 2009 at 11:20 am Reply

I thought the API would have been free. What in the earth? Who is going to pay for this? I should remind you, anybody can still open up a web browser to your web site and make the search they want. Anybody can use Mozilla prizm and make your web site a standalone web application. What is the point of making your API at a price? what kinda business model is this?

Posted by Derek November 28, 2009 at 11:05 am Reply

The API price is absurd. What is this, 1992?

Posted by Brian Jenkins April 4, 2010 at 7:12 pm Reply

You can’t be serious, Wolfram. How the heck do you expect to build an innovative development community by pricing everyone out in this way.

As a company, your techical innovation in the space of scientific computing has been immense. As a platform provider, you seem absolutely clueless; and seem to be missing the point of having a public API in the first place. Attempting to monetize it directly, out of the gate without any successful applications built on it seems backwards. How are you able to accurately price the service in a sensible manner? I hope you reconsider your terms, since there are a lot of developers who would like to build applications on top of Alpha.

Posted by James H May 24, 2010 at 3:31 pm Reply

so butti……….sangeeta

Posted by flower August 13, 2010 at 3:11 am Reply

Hello all,

In defense, of W|A:

It seems to me that most or all of the complaints are misplaced. There is a significant and substantial difference between this and most API’s. In most API’s (Java, C++ libraries, etc.) the developer runs calls to his own development box, server and/or database. W|A is doing 90% of the database maintenance/upgrades, server costs, etc. At least compare apples with apples before complaining.

This is more like cloud computing, which has costs of a similar order of magnitude. (I’m open to correction here). This obviously isn’t just a huge database for Citibank’s credit card processing, it has far more and different capabilities. (Fewer concurrency security restrictions, but far, far more different kinds of data.)

There is a free service available at WolframAlpha.com, but obviously doesn’t have much direct API support (yet?). And the widgets have some support, for API’s but not a great deal.

-Nick

Posted by Nickalh October 22, 2010 at 12:06 am Reply

I was just about to test the API from my web-app used by a small number of scientists. It’s definitely worth money as a cloud based service. At this time it’s way to expensive to even bother to try, and it’s missing a free developers plan.

Posted by Christian November 24, 2010 at 1:40 pm Reply

You should seriously consider a free, low request count plan. There is no incentive for me to build useful tools around your API with such prices. As a programmer and scientist, this seriously makes me doubt that wolfram has a sincere interest in making wolframalpha a global educational tool. Not everyone is trying to build a business around learning and computational knowledge.
_____________
mahima

Posted by BPO Work January 24, 2011 at 2:18 am Reply

    Hello Mahima, Last week we announced version 2.0 of the Wolfram|Alpha API which includes new features, free API for personal experimentation, and simplified commercial rates. You can learn more about it in our latest blog post. Thank you.

    Posted by The Wolfram|Alpha Team January 24, 2011 at 1:49 pm Reply
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