ARCHIVE: May 2009
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May 31, 2009– 23

It is said that ambition is contagious, and it’s clear that our ambitions for Wolfram|Alpha, one of the most complex intelligence projects ever undertaken, is spreading around the globe. In the two weeks since Wolfram|Alpha first went live, an impressive number of users have asked how they can contribute to the development of this long-term project. We are flattered by your enthusiasm, and want you to join the Wolfram|Alpha Project.

Just take a look at the number of people, just like you, who have found a way to contribute their interests to this project.

2849 registered users have contributed to the Wolfram|Alpha Community. The ideas and feedback generated through conversations on the Community are invaluable tools for Wolfram|Alpha developers.

70,000 feedback submissions have been sent (via the feedback field that can be found on every page of the site), providing the Wolfram|Alpha team with critical input on specific content. More »

May 30, 2009– 8

Wolfram|Alpha continues to be a hot topic in online newspapers and magazines, blogs, Facebook, and beyond. But one of our favorite (and one of the most insightful) places to find chatter about Wolfram|Alpha is on Twitter.

People tweet Wolfram|Alpha results that amaze them. Some suggest features or domains we should add. Others ask questions about how to get the results they want. And what’s really great is to see people tweeting advice and recommendations to other users.

Here are a few of the tweeted results or suggestions that have caught our eyes or amused us:

  • @yooklyde: According to Wolfram|Alpha I was born approx. an hour before sunset, during a Full Moon. That last bit explains everything.
  • @petervogel: Students in my ICT classes continue to be fascinated with Wolfram Alpha; a given-name analysis seems to hook them.
  • @sqjtaipei: cool about the running calories expended… how about other sports… need swimming and cycling. thx.

We really enjoy reading and exploring your updates and responding when we can.

We also like Twittering to show you some of the many uses of Wolfram|Alpha.

We’re highlighting a different feature or input every day. Today, it was seeing stars with Wolfram|Alpha. Others have been such things as how to get tide forecasts, compute fuel usage, and figure out that tough crossword puzzle. Educational, practical, topical, just plain interesting—we’ll share it all. You’ve just got to follow us to find out.

We hope you enjoy the results we showcase. We’ll be watching for your ideas and favorite inputs—so be sure to include #wolframalpha in your next tweet.

May 29, 2009– 12

Here are a few more photos of our teams during the Wolfram|Alpha launch weekend. Way to go everyone!

Discussing Wolfram|Alpha More »

May 28, 2009– 26

Our teams have been working steadily for a long time to make Wolfram|Alpha successful. The content development team is one of the most essential groups in this process. All of us are still pushing to get the best information into Wolfram|Alpha for our users. These photos show some of the content developers during the launch weekend. Thanks to all who have helped!

Reviewing content More »

May 27, 2009– 5

Max Whitby interviews one of the Wolfram|Alpha data curators during the Wolfram|Alpha launch weekend.

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May 26, 2009– 114

It’s now a week since we officially launched Wolfram|Alpha into the world.

It’s been a great first week.

Approaching 100 million queries. Lots of compliments.

But for me the most striking thing is how many people want to help Wolfram|Alpha succeed.

Making the world’s knowledge computable is a huge undertaking.

And it’s wonderful to see all the help we’re being offered in doing it.

We’ve worked hard to construct a framework. But to realize the full promise of computable knowledge, we need a lot of input and support. More »

May 25, 2009– 27

The Wolfram|Alpha Community Forum has moved to the Wolfram Community. Sign up today for interesting discussions about Wolfram|Alpha and more!

We are so excited about the response to the Wolfram|Alpha Community site in the past week. Nearly 2,000 people have shared questions, ideas, and inputs since it launched on Monday, and many more are finding this forum to be a great place to communicate with others who are exploring Wolfram|Alpha. More »

May 24, 2009– 41

(Comments to a blog post this morning on Gizmodo.)

Type in the word “dumb” to Wolfram|Alpha and you’ll get all sorts of interesting information. Like that “dumb” was first recorded in use in 1323—686 years ago. More »

May 24, 2009– 6

Max Whitby interviews a Wolfram|Alpha team member during the launch weekend.

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May 23, 2009– 9

Max Whitby interviews one of the members of our graphic design team during the Wolfram|Alpha launch weekend.

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May 22, 2009– 41

The Wolfram|Alpha control room was very useful during our launch countdown last weekend. We were able to monitor different aspects of our testing at the same time simply by looking up at all the screens on the wall. Here are some more photos of the room.

Working hard and checking out the progress. More »

May 21, 2009– 49

The feedback has been pouring in since we launched Wolfram|Alpha into the world. As promised, we’re reading all of your comments and we’re responding.

Here are a few of the quick fixes we’ve implemented already:

We’ll keep making updates. In the meantime, keep the suggestions coming. It’s your feedback that will help us make Wolfram|Alpha stronger for everyone.

May 20, 2009– 36

We are constantly monitoring the vital signs of Wolfram|Alpha, and have been since the moment it went live. Traffic has held strong, with a sustained rate of hundreds of requests per second from all continents, and we’re now able to fine-tune our systems in ways that weren’t possible with simulated traffic.

We found that in some regions the site was not as responsive as it could be, and we are now in the process of rebalancing the load and continuing to problem-solve networking issues.

To date, we have made substantial progress on solving issues with our network, DNS, hardware, web server configuration, and databases. More »

May 19, 2009– 33

Every aspect of Wolfram|Alpha has been thought through in great detail. Its logo is no exception.

As a tip of the hat to the vast and powerful computational engine that powers Wolfram|Alpha, a natural place to start brainstorming for an appropriate logo was in Mathematica itself. And this is where I, geometry enthusiast and the developer of the PolyhedronData computational data collection, came into the picture.

As many of you may know, Mathematica‘s logo is a three-dimensional polyhedron affectionately called “Spikey.” In its original (Version 1) form, Spikey consisted of the spiked solid obtained from an icosahedron (the regular 20-faced solid that is one of the five Platonic solids) with regular tetrahedra (triangular pyramids) affixed to its faces.

Mathematica Version 1 Spikey More »

Tags:

Wolfram|Alpha is officially launched!

Wolfram|Alpha went live in test mode at 8:48pm CST on Friday. Our teams worked intensely through the weekend to complete load testing, fix bugs, and begin to address the feedback you have provided—over 22,000 feedback messages. During testing, Wolfram|Alpha processed nearly 23 million queries; by our estimates, approximately 3 out of 4 gave satisfactory results.

By late Sunday night, we were able to test all compute clusters at full capacity.

Compute clusters working at full capacity More »

The Wolfram|Alpha Community Forum has moved to the Wolfram Community. Sign up today for interesting discussions about Wolfram|Alpha and more!

Today we are officially launching Wolfram|Alpha to the world at large. It has been a very successful weekend of testing and learning. We’re flattered by the positive reception thus far, and we are dedicated to furthering the project with the help of you, our community of users.

To that end we are officially launching the Wolfram|Alpha Community, which allows you to submit questions, ideas, and favorite inputs.

We already have a few static forms to contribute things such as facts, figures, and structured data or algorithms, methods, and models. The Community serves to supplement these types of feedback with a more free-form discussion among all Wolfram|Alpha users.

In the Community, you can vote for items that you feel deserve further attention. We support threaded commenting, unique user profiles, and social sharing via email, Twitter, and Facebook. The Community also allows you to “save” items of interest so that you can track their progress over time.

This crowd-sourced model will help our team here gain a better understanding of what features, improvements, and possibilities the Community thinks are most interesting and worthwhile.

There has been a tremendous amount of useful feedback thus far, and much of that information is being used to make immediate improvements in near real time.

But it is also our hope that the Wolfram|Alpha Community will help make the feedback process more direct and have more impact. The Community will provide us with a mechanism to report back to you with changes, new results and capabilities, and overall improvements, thereby closing the loop and making the entire system more transparent.

Of course, we won’t be able to respond to every submission. But we’ll do our very best to respond to all relevant and substantive items. Additionally, it is our hope that members of the Community will likewise take the time to assist their peers, pointing them in the right direction and offering valuable advice and context.

Thanks again for all of your support and please join us in the Community!

It’s 3am on the East Coast and we can see from the sampling of our geoIP data that plenty of people are awake and using Wolfram|Alpha. Here’s a sample of 5 seconds on the map:

5 second sampling

Europe is just starting to wake up on a Monday morning and our query rate is starting to climb.

In the first 24 hours of our launch weekend, we received nearly 10,000 messages forwarded from the feedback forms on the bottom of each Wolfram|Alpha page. The compliments have been very gratifying.

The feedback has been insightful and entertaining. You’ve offered lots of suggestions, from additional domains and analysis to computations that have gone awry. We thought you might enjoy seeing some of the feedback we’ve received. More »

We’re still hard at work, keeping Wolfram|Alpha moving forward.

Wolfram|Alpha discussions continue around the clock. More »

Wolfram|Alpha continues to move forward. We’ve learned lots over the course of our performance testing and can share that directly with you.

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Wolfram|Alpha just went live for the very first time, running all clusters.

Stephen Wolfram beginning his live broadcast for the launch of Wolfram|Alpha.
More »

We’re in the final stages of our “countdown” to be able to launch Wolfram|Alpha. It is an exciting time here in the control room. The team here is gearing up to finally go live, and the energy in the room is palpable.

countdown
More »

May 15, 2009– 63

Starting later today, we’ll be launching Wolfram|Alpha (you can see the proceedings on a live webcast).

This is a proud moment for us and for the whole Mathematica community. (We hope the launch goes well!)

Wolfram|Alpha defines a new direction in computing—that would have simply not have been possible without Mathematica, and that in time will add some remarkable new dimensions to Mathematica itself.

In terms of technology, Wolfram|Alpha is a uniquely complex software system, which has been entirely developed and deployed with Mathematica and Mathematica technologies.
More »

Tomorrow we’ll be starting to launch Wolfram|Alpha. But today (May 14, 2009) is the seventh anniversary of the publication of Stephen Wolfram’s book A New Kind of Science.

It’s a curious—and unintentional—juxtaposition. Because in a sense NKS is the intellectual structure that’s now making Wolfram|Alpha possible. And Wolfram|Alpha is the first “killer app” of NKS.

Stephen Wolfram has written a blog today that reports on the state of NKS and explains a little bit of that connection.

May 13, 2009– 1

Some of you have asked whether you’ll be able to use Wolfram|Alpha for challenging math. Of course!

Remember your old friend pi?

Wolfram|Alpha computers pi to 100 digits

More »

Building the ultimate computational knowledge engine is a highly ambitious and long-term project. The Wolfram|Alpha that you will get to start exploring next week is really just the beginning. Still, there are a lot of ways that you might use Wolfram|Alpha.

In this screencast, Stephen Wolfram gives a quick introduction and demo of today’s Wolfram|Alpha.

We’re now in the final stages of getting ready to launch Wolfram|Alpha. It’s a hugely complex piece of technology; certainly one of the most complex web-based services ever constructed. We’ve sought advice from many experts as we’ve designed its infrastructure and technology management processes.

But we’ve been rather surprised that we haven’t been able to find even a single publicly available record of the commissioning of any large website at all. So we thought we would document our own experience and that perhaps some of you would like to share this journey with us. We can’t guarantee that everything will go smoothly. Indeed, we fully expect to encounter unanticipated situations along the way. We hope that you’ll find it interesting to join us as we work through these in real time. Perhaps you’ll even have some advice to share. More »

When Wolfram|Alpha launches, it will be one of the most computationally intensive websites on the internet. There is no way to know exactly how much traffic to expect, especially during the initial period immediately following our launch, but we’re working hard to put reasonable capacity in place. Will we have enough computing power to provide computable knowledge for everyone who visits? We hope so.

We’ll service Wolfram|Alpha from five distributed colocation facilities, which we somewhat unimaginatively call locations 0, 2, 3, 4, 5 (1 as a backup). What computing power have we gathered in these facilities for launch day? Two supercomputers, just about 10,000 processor cores, hundreds of terabytes of disks, a heck of a lot of bandwidth, and what seems like enough air conditioning for the Sahara to host a ski resort. More »

Soon everyone will have access to the first version of Wolfram|Alpha. Already some have asked: “What kinds of questions can Wolfram|Alpha help me answer?” “Will there be examples for me to use?” “How will I get started?”

As we make our final preparations to release Wolfram|Alpha over the next week, we thought it might be helpful to discuss questions like these in this blog.

Looking at the Examples by Topic page provides a good framework. You will be able to navigate from the Wolfram|Alpha home page to Examples:
More »

As part of our testing, for a short time yesterday we opened up access to a small test cluster that was being used for load testing. Within minutes, thousands of people discovered this and started exploring Wolfram|Alpha.

People connected to the Wolfram|Alpha test cluster from all over the world

Wow!

(We recognize Cape Town, Delhi, Tokyo, Lima, Rio de Janeiro… We’re not quite so sure about the spot in the heart of the Australian desert.)

In any case, we’re continuing our final preparations. We plan to launch late next week, with the official date now set for May 18.

Thanks for all of your encouragement!

May 4, 2009– 284

In the last three months, I’ve discussed Wolfram|Alpha one-on-one with well over 300 people from all over the world and all walks of life. Wolfram|Alpha is a service unlike any other, and people’s reactions reflect this. When simple analogy is not possible, the discussions take on a whole different tone than that of a typical product introduction.

Here are some of the reactions floating around the web. They reflect the diversity of conversations I’ve had in my one-on-ones. What’s your take?

“While search engines like Google, by and large, find things that already exist on the Internet—Web sites, photos, videos, blogs—Wolfram|Alpha answers questions, often by doing complex, and new computations.” —From The New York Times Bits blog

More »

May 1, 2009– 106

Although it’s tempting to think of Wolfram|Alpha as a place to look up facts, that’s only part of the story. The thing that truly sets Wolfram|Alpha apart is that it is able to do sophisticated computations for you, both pure computations involving numbers or formulas you enter, and computations applied automatically to data called up from its repositories.

Why does computation matter? Because computation is what turns generic information into specific answers.

To give an amusing example, every school child has at one time or another written a report on the moon, and they probably included the wrong figure for how far the moon is from the earth. Why wrong? Because the distance from the earth to the moon is not constant: it changes by as much as a mile a minute. If you ask Wolfram|Alpha the distance to the moon, it tells you not only the conventionally quoted average distance, but also the actual distance right now, which can at times be well over ten thousand miles off the average. The actual distance is a figure that can be arrived at only by computation based on the moon’s known orbital parameters. It’s rocket science, if you will.
More »