Schoeller Porter
Blog Posts from this author:
March 31, 2010– 94

At Wolfram|Alpha, our mission is to make all the world’s systematic knowledge available, accessible, and computable.

The number-one priority of our new Managing Director, Barak Berkowitz, is to get Wolfram|Alpha in the hands of everyone. It’s all about ubiquity. This is an exciting time.

To date, we’ve focused on improving the Wolfram|Alpha experience, refining the processes we use to incorporate new information into the system, experimenting with Wolfram|Alpha on mobile devices, and solidifying programmatic access through the API.

As we approach the anniversary of the launch of Wolfram|Alpha, we’ll be moving into Wolfram|Alpha’s next phase, centered on growth—increasing the exposure and use of Wolfram|Alpha both by individuals seeking knowledge and by developers building computational knowledge into their applications in interesting ways. We want Wolfram|Alpha to become ubiquitous.

The first step in this process is to improve Wolfram|Alpha’s accessibility on smartphones and other mobile devices that are increasingly an integral part of one’s online experience. Today we’re launching the mobile Wolfram|Alpha website, The new mobile website is a big step forward from the landing page it replaces, having been engineered from the ground up for the new generation of touch-screen smartphones while enabling access to Wolfram|Alpha from earlier handheld devices that have difficulty with the main website.

In addition to the mobile website, we’ve changed the price of the Wolfram|Alpha App for the iPhone and iPod touch to $1.99, down from $49.99.

Many, if not most, of our mobile customers tell us that the app is their preferred way of using Wolfram|Alpha. However, if you happen to be one of the few early adopters who aren’t happy with the app, you can request a refund.

Over the next few weeks and months, we will make a series of announcements that continue the push toward our ultimate goal—putting Wolfram|Alpha everywhere. As we enter the age of ubiquity for Wolfram|Alpha, we look forward to seeing and hearing how you make use of computational knowledge in your life.

November 11, 2009– 36

Having announced the Wolfram|Alpha API just over three weeks ago, I am pleased to share in announcing Microsoft’s Bing decision engine as one of our first API customers.

Starting today, Wolfram|Alpha’s knowledge, computed from expertly curated data, will enrich Bing’s results in select areas across nutrition, health, and advanced mathematics. Wolfram|Alpha provides immediate, unbiased, and individualized information, making it distinctly different from what has traditionally been found through web search. By using Wolfram|Alpha, Bing recognizes the complementary benefits of bringing computational knowledge to the forefront of the search experience.

By using our API, Bing will be able to seamlessly access the tens of thousands of algorithms and trillions of pieces of data from Wolfram|Alpha, and directly incorporate the computations in its search results.

Microsoft’s initiative and interest in Wolfram|Alpha began earlier this year. In fact, there is an interesting story that circulates within our walls around some of our early discussions with Microsoft.

Highlighting examples of Wolfram|Alpha to the most senior executives at Microsoft, Stephen Wolfram entered the query “2^2^2^2^2”. Upon seeing the result, Bill Gates interrupted to say, “What, is that right?”

A profound silence fell over the entire room.

Stephen replied, “We do mathematics!”

Amused, Stephen, Bill, and the other executives dissected the calculation and determined that the result was, indeed, correct. Microsoft continues to pepper us with questions to this day, reflecting its continued enthusiasm in Wolfram|Alpha.

We applaud Microsoft’s vision and foresight in augmenting their search with Wolfram|Alpha, and we look forward to a fulfilling and productive partnership.

November 2, 2009– 38

It’s been little over two weeks since the Wolfram|Alpha App for the iPhone and iPod touch was released to the world on the App Store. During that time, the app has gained a substantial following, was listed as “What’s Hot” on the App Store, has ignited a passionate discussion over pricing and the viability of ambitious apps on the App Store, and has even had an unexpected bug fixed. It has been an exciting couple of weeks.

As noted in a couple of the App Store reviews, the initial release of the app wasn’t perfect. We’ve been developing commercial software for over 20 years, but despite this, it seems no matter how much effort one puts into testing, you’ll always find issues in the wild. Thanks in large part to immediate feedback through Twitter, this blog, and other blog posts about the Wolfram|Alpha App, we were able to narrow the issue down to an obscure bug in the auto-update mechanism for the in-app examples and immediately issue a fix by updating the way the Wolfram|Alpha API responds to the problematic queries. We agree with you: a $50 app should not crash.

The discussion on pricing has certainly been lively. I’d like to take a moment to respond to a number of questions that have popped up in the discussion.

Why not offer a free version of the app?
The Wolfram|Alpha website is the free version. You can access the website through Safari on the iPhone at no cost. You can even put a link to the Wolfram|Alpha web page on your home screen if you want.

If the website is free, why pay $50 for the app?
The website and the app offer different experiences in using Wolfram|Alpha.  We’ve spent a great deal of time tuning the Wolfram|Alpha App for the specific needs of iPhone users. As has been observed by many, the changes aren’t dramatic. You get the exact same results from the website as you do from the app, and you have the same level and breadth of capability. We’re not limiting the website’s functionality to drive app sales. More »

October 19, 2009– 16

In case you yet haven’t yet heard: the Wolfram|Alpha App for the iPhone and iPod touch is now available. An enormous amount of effort went into creating this app. Thanks to the entire team for all your work.

The news broke last night and has continued today on many different sites: Mashable, Mobile Tech Addicts, Gizmodo, Rafe’s Radar on CNET, Search Engine Land, Download Squad, Daring Fireball, and many others. We certainly liked hearing…

“The mathematical and scientific information is really outstanding and it’s pretty mind-blowing the sorts of data you can extrapolate and the sorts of information that you can get back. Ultimately, this app showcases the very real potential Wolfram|Alpha has.” Christina Warren, Mashable

“I found in testing it over the weekend that I would be much more inclined to use the iPhone version than the online version of the engine. I would even say it was more ‘fun.’” Greg Sterling, Search Engine Land

“The app does the kind of high-level math that would make Texas Instruments weep. If you’re a student or someone in a math-intensive technical field, it might rock your world.” Jay Hathaway, Download Squad

“…I’m glad they’ve set the price high. There’s widespread consensus that the current race-to-the-bottom in App Store pricing discourages the development of deep, significant applications.” John Gruber, Daring Fireball

Keyboard on the Wolfram|Alpha iPhone App Computing with the Wolfram|Alpha iPhone App

More »

October 15, 2009– 28

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.

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