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The Wolfram|Alpha Team

Month One: A Look Back

June 18, 2009 —
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Today marks one month since the official launch of Wolfram|Alpha. This is a perfect time for us to say, “Thank you.”

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.

“How long does it take to get to Saturn at, say, the speed of light? With Wolfram|Alpha, the online ‘computational knowledge engine’ that launched Monday, the answer–75 minutes–can be found in a fraction of a second.” Wolfram|Alpha: A New Kind of Search Engine,”
The Los Angeles Times

“Wolfram|Alpha is not a search engine. Perhaps it will one day become one, but currently it’s exactly that its tagline says: a computational knowledge engine.”Five Things Wolfram|Alpha Does Better (and Vastly Different) Than Google,”

“The latest dilemma facing professors is whether to let students turn to a web site called Wolfram|Alpha, which not only solves complex math problems, but also can spell out the steps leading to those solutions. In other words, it can instantly do most of the homework and test questions found in many calculus textbooks.”A Calculating Website Could Ignite a New Campus ‘Math War’,”
The Chronicles of Higher Education

“[The] Wolfram|Alpha site automates arithmetic drudgery for students, but teachers worry it does homework, too”Sum Help: New Search Engine for Mathletes,”
The Wall Street Journal

“Today, I want to talk about why Wolfram|Alpha is very, very important to watch. It’s not an iPhone, but it is changing the rules of search in a very significant way.”Why Wolfram|Alpha Is Important,”
Media Post Publications


I realize Wolfram|Alpha is making great strides in intelligent computational technology, but why do people keep referring to it as a “search”? I keep trying to find an instance of the words “search engine” on W|A’s homepage. I cringe when I see “WolframAlpha” and “Google killer” in the same sentence… I think the initial hype helped give it a bit of a publicity boost, but it might be a wrongly negative thing over time.

Can W|A officially comment on this? It will avoid confusion in the long run…

Posted by Matt June 18, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    W|A is definitely not a search engine. IIt is defined as a ‘Computational Knowledge Engine’ It is also clearly stated that its knowledge including algorithms is ‘curated’ making it a ‘Compoutational Curated Knowledge Engline’ . It does not search for an answer. It either has the answer in its curated knowledge or computes the answer using its curated knowledge. It is to be expected that it will accept questions in any form included in its curated knowledge and supply answers on request in any form in its curated knowledge. Searching would be against its principles.

    Posted by Brian Gilbert June 19, 2009 at 9:07 am

      I guess most people see the relatively simple-access, anonymous input form and immediately think of a search engine, if that’s the only type of web tool they’ve used with an interface like that.

      Posted by Andrew June 19, 2009 at 8:56 pm

        It’s quite simple actually. In the months leading up to the “opening” of W|A, anything you read pertaining to Wolfram had the “Google Killer” tag associated with it. People got accustomed to this, and therefore, think of it as a search engine.

        All in all, it does search, it just lacks the crawlers that makes Google so famous and broad. It searches through an internal database, unlike an actually Search Engine. Perhaps one day, W|A will open up and develop a method of extracting it’s data directly from the internet a la Google Squared.

        There’s really no comparison, and those who associate the two, Google and W|A are obviously in the dark when it comes to knowledge about the topic. You could say one a telescope and one is a magnifying glass when trying to stargaze. W|A will bring you exact results he topic you wanted, hence being compared to a telescope. Google will give you what you wanted, but it’s buried under a bunch of other results.

        Posted by Tyler June 25, 2009 at 2:16 am

Thanks to you!
We really enjoyed every bit of the updates from your side.
I must admit you have achieved a lot in the first month..

Keep rocking as always …

Posted by Kapil Dalwani June 18, 2009 at 5:42 pm

Congratulations! I have enjoyed using W-A, although the things that I have tried to look up must not be in the system yet, because it usually sends me a message that it doesn’t understand what I want, when I clearly ask for something simple, just like you demonstrated in your tutorial. I guess I’ll just have to keep trying back until you’re more advanced, eh?
Until then, best wishes!

Posted by Cynde L. Hammond June 18, 2009 at 5:50 pm

For me, the most promising website on the net.

Posted by Paul Koster June 18, 2009 at 8:02 pm

Less than 2 months ago I hadn’t heard of W|A. I am trying to be constructive with comments and suggestions while I watch its stats by inputting W|A every day and then clicking on ‘History’.
There was a huge spike in the graph of visits per day as it just made it through the going live stage. A lot of people tried it out then out of interest then it sank to a relative trickle while people tried to find constructive uses for it. For the last couple of days it has started to climb. The data has a long way to go but the bits that are there are already invaluable to some. It may well climb exponentially till it finds a weakness possibly overload, possibly curation. Better get a revenue model implemented quick. I suggest a small amount of time per day for free then a price to keep W|A growing well but not enough to encourage competition for now.

Posted by Brian Gilbert June 19, 2009 at 1:21 am

Doesn’t work : “earth to Saturn at speed of light?” doesn’t give any result.
“time from earth to Saturn at speed of light?” only gives the distance… in AU only, with no conversion, no time. Oh btw what is it with giving distances between cities in pre historical units that 5% of people understand, instead of metric, even when the request comes from “the rest of the world” ? I could understand using Chinese or Indian units that are understood by 20% people, but miles ??? Is it sadism against 95% people who cannot understand the whole concept of units based on the width of the thumb of some king, or masochism, from scientists who would never use those crazy units in normal conditions of pressure and temperature ? Or a boycott of French products ?

Posted by Nicolas June 19, 2009 at 1:35 am

For the next couple of years, I see the trinity of Google, Wikipedia and W|A as my main webtools for work and pleasure.

Posted by ImaginaryUnit June 19, 2009 at 3:22 am

I’m interested in seeing how the debate will progress: Wolfram’s camp lauding the automation of drudgery and freeing up study/research time to dive deeper into conceptual exploration; and the other camp perhaps decrying the “dumbing down” of students who will no longer have an incentive to gain skills independent from technology.

For now, I see myself in the first camp. I’ve seen opinions that formalized higher education itself may be an endangered species, with access to knowledge and computation (and teaching itself over the web) increasing exponentially in so many ways. I think there’s an important issue to think about here: should people with young children in these times be saving up for their kids’ college years? Will these kids even have/need college years 10-15 years from now?

Posted by Andrew June 19, 2009 at 3:51 am

Nice job.
I’m now looking forward for the “year one : a look back”.

Posted by Neamar June 19, 2009 at 8:19 am

Actually had a real use for it in the last couple of days – very handy for simple interpreting H1N1-A data, using populations and lattitudes. Even did the basic calculations right there on the page.

Speaking of which, I use the IE Wolfram toolbar – it would be nice if simple answers could be presented right there.

Not very happy with the iPhone presentation though. Google does it great (you can even make spoken queries).

Posted by Tim Hulse June 19, 2009 at 12:05 pm

The answer isn’t 75 anymore. More like 80.

That’s so cool, haha.

Posted by Toph June 20, 2009 at 12:36 am
Posted by Daniel Carvalho June 22, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Kann mir irgend jemand sagen ob Wolfram Alpha auch mal urgendwann Deutsch erscheint.

Posted by sam July 7, 2009 at 2:09 pm