To mark the second anniversary of the launch of Wolfram|Alpha, I did an interactive webcast:
Here’s a transcript of my introduction:
[Note: here is what I wrote for Wolfram|Alpha's first anniversary a year ago.]
So, as of today, Wolfram|Alpha has officially been out in the wild for two years.
And I’m happy to say, it’s doing really well.
You know, I’d been thinking about building Wolfram|Alpha for more than 30 years.
And I’ve been working to build the stack of ideas and technology to make it possible for nearly that long.
At the beginning, I was not really sure that Wolfram|Alpha was going to be possible at all.
And I think if I look a year ago from now my main conclusion was that after a year out in the wild, we’d proved that, yes, Wolfram|Alpha was indeed possible.
Well, now that we’re two years out, I think my conclusion is: Wolfram|Alpha is even a lot more important than I thought it was.
This effort to make all our knowledge computable is really something very fundamental, that’s sort of inevitably going to be needed just all over the place.
So what have we been up to this year?
It is hard to believe that just two years ago today Wolfram|Alpha was released for free on the web. It’s been another big year for our mission of making all of the world’s knowledge computable. Since Stephen Wolfram’s first annual update, we’ve been introducing curated data at an unprecedented rate, developing new site features and releasing a host of new developer and consumer products.
We’ve compiled a list of some of the new features, products, data, and capabilities we’ve added over the last year. You can explore this list here.
Thank you for making Wolfram|Alpha’s second year an exciting and creative time. We can’t wait to show you what’s next.
If you’re as excited about Wolfram|Alpha as we are, and want to help out, consider becoming a volunteer curator. Our volunteer curators are passionate, enthusiastic people who are committed to gathering and checking data. We realize there is a lot of diverse knowledge across the world, and we want to give you the opportunity to be a part of this exciting project.
Currently we are working with volunteer curators from all over the world on geographical data, but we are open to volunteers with different interests or areas of expertise as well. If you’ve got knowledge or insight into a specific area, we want to hear from you.
Our ongoing volunteer curators receive a complimentary, temporary Mathematica license, with the potential to extend the license for long-term curation. You don’t need to know Mathematica to become a volunteer curator, but you will have the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the program if you so choose. Volunteers check data, add data, and help us find new ways in which someone might search for data on Wolfram|Alpha.
There is a wide range of time available for volunteers per week, so whether you’d like to help a little or a lot, we would love to have you as a volunteer contributing to the advancement of Wolfram|Alpha.
If you are interested in become a volunteer curator, fill out our form here. If you have questions about the process, email firstname.lastname@example.org. We will respond to you as soon as possible and work with you to determine your area(s) of expertise and where you might fit in.
The enthusiasm and support from all of our users has been nothing short of inspiring. We will continue to incorporate your suggestions as we keep building Wolfram|Alpha. We invite you to take a look back on our journey through insightful stories that highlight some of the interesting issues and challenges that opened up dialogues among our community of users.
Wolfram|Alpha is a fascinating and exciting project. What’s made it possible is the terrific team we’ve built around it. And what will make Wolfram|Alpha even stronger is adding more world-class talent to our team.
We believe our mission to make all of the world’s knowledge computable is an important one. While we’ve come a long way, there’s still plenty of work to do—more knowledge needs to be added and updated and new capabilities need to be introduced. We’re ready now to begin bringing more people on board to help us pursue our goals.
A project like Wolfram|Alpha requires a remarkable spectrum of talents—technologists, content experts in almost every conceivable subject area, business experts… and the list goes on.
We are happy to be adding to our outstanding team as we take Wolfram|Alpha into the future. We hope you’ll consider joining us on our journey.
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!
Max Whitby interviews one of the Wolfram|Alpha data curators during the Wolfram|Alpha launch weekend.
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 »
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 »
Max Whitby interviews a Wolfram|Alpha team member during the launch weekend.
Max Whitby interviews one of the members of our graphic design team during the Wolfram|Alpha launch weekend.
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:
- Building height comparisons.
- Adding detail to the data on languages spoken in Germany.
- Improving understanding of questions about the distance to the moon.
- Calculating housing prices in New York.
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.
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 »
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.
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:
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 »
Wolfram|Alpha continues to move forward. We’ve learned lots over the course of our performance testing and can share that directly with you.
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.
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.
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 »
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.
(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!
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