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The Wolfram|Alpha Team

Profiling Wolfram|Alpha Volunteers

February 11, 2010 —
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One of the most rewarding aspects of working on Wolfram|Alpha is the support from everybody who wants to participate in our mission to make all systematic knowledge computable by everyone. Some help by submitting ideas for data sets or usability, or by reporting bugs; others are helping us achieve this goal as Wolfram|Alpha volunteer data curators. We’d like to take this opportunity to recognize a few of our volunteers and share highlights of the program.

Data curators are charged with identifying and collecting data for a specific subject area or region, and preparing the data to be incorporated into Wolfram|Alpha. There are many advantages to being a volunteer for Wolfram|Alpha compared to other online databases. First, because Wolfram|Alpha is in the early stages of its growth, there are plenty of opportunities to contribute to areas of most interest to you. Second, the data that volunteers curate is reviewed and verified with a member of the Wolfram|Alpha development team, so you don’t have to worry about your contribution being erased or altered by another user on the web. In addition, all volunteers receive a complimentary Mathematica license for the duration of their involvement.

Today we have a global network of over 240 volunteer data curators from over 50 countries, including Mexico, Colombia, Australia, France, Greece, United Arab Emirates, China, Malaysia, India, Egypt, and the United States. We’d like to introduce a few volunteers and share why they became involved in the project and what they hope to achieve.

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Seth Greenblatt

Seth, a United States native residing in Austin, Texas, recently retired after 30 years of work in mathematics, physics, computer science, and statistics. Throughout his career he has contributed to an impressive number of projects in fields ranging from epidemiology to meteorology, social network analysis, and many more.

He became a Wolfram|Alpha Volunteer Data Curator shortly after the site’s launch in May 2009. Seth claims he got involved because of “ulterior motives,” stating, “The old saying says, ‘You learn something new every day.’ Through my work on the project, I wanted to see if I can learn two new things.”

This international traveler and avid reader says the amount of time he allocates to the project varies from week to week depending on what life brings. Thus far Seth has contributed to the project by gathering country data for New Zealand, and publication and distribution data for books. We asked Seth about the challenges he has encountered as a curator and he said, “One challenge that anyone working with ‘real world’ data has to deal with is the quality, currency, and availability of data. In this type of work, when I find a reliable, up-to-date, comprehensive source of information, I feel like a miner, after digging through tons of granite, finally encountering a vein of pure gold. I pick out every bit of useful information I can, then continue on through the granite. By the time I go from raw data, organize it into understandable information to submit for inclusion into the knowledge base, it has to be correct. If there is a choice between including data that could well be incorrect and leaving that data out, it should be left out until better data can be found.”

Saleh Penhos

Saleh Penhos runs a knit clothing factory that produces graphic T-shirts in Mexico City, Mexico. He is also a self-professed fan of computers. Saleh says his computer skills are mostly self-taught but that he did study computer systems engineering in college.

Saleh became a volunteer after learning about Wolfram|Alpha’s mission. He says that he immediately fell in love with the project and saw volunteering as an opportunity to contribute to the data community. Thus far, Saleh has experienced no challenges. In fact, he says he enjoys searching for reliable information, and as a bonus he is exposed to new fields of knowledge. He currently spends about seven hours a week curating Mexico’s country and geographic data in addition to translating some information to the Spanish language.

Rohan Sehgal

Rohan Sehgal is a native of India, currently studying in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Rohan’s goal of becoming a computer engineer led him to Wolfram|Alpha when he began using the site for help with differential and integral calculus. He said the benefits he received from Wolfram|Alpha led him to want to contribute to its growth.

We recently checked up with Rohan to find out what he was working on, and he said, “Currently I’m participating in a project for finding information on fictional characters in movies, serials, and books. But I have curated data involving languages, units of measurement, and facts and figures on countries as well. Being a curator takes anywhere between fifteen minutes to an hour’s work a week. Wolfram|Alpha is extremely supportive and has not only provided me with assistance at nearly all points of time, but also with the software to work on the same platform as them. All in all it has been a wonderful experience.”

Nikos Loxas

Nikos is a computer engineer from Zakynthos, Greece. Thus far, Nikos has contributed roughly 36 hours to the project. Much of the data Nikos is curating is specific to Greece, including airport information, buildings, islands, historical landmarks, politicians, athletes, and entertainers. Nikos plans to continue curating data in hopes that it contributes to the evolution of Wolfram|Alpha.

Mrinal Sarkar

Mrinal is a native of India who is currently working as a project manager in Australia. Mrinal’s area of expertise is information technology with an emphasis on business intelligence and knowledge management. He says, “Knowledge management and search engines has always been an area of interest for me. This interest was further developed during my MBA days where I had actively pursued knowledge management as my specialization. Later on I did a dissertation titled ‘Investing concepts of knowledge and approaches to knowledge management in organizations.’”

Mirnal is currently contributing to Wolfram|Alpha by curating country-specific and mathematical data.

These are just a few of the hundreds of volunteers who contribute to this project. We are incredibly grateful for their enthusiasm and ideas. If you would like to learn more about getting involved we invite you to visit our volunteer page or email us at You can also connect with many of the volunteer curators through the Wolfram|Alpha Community site and our LinkedIn group for Wolfram|Alpha Volunteer Data Curators.


These curators are doing great work. But how can we trust they don’t make a mistake? This is in NO WAY a criticism of Wolfram’s goals or business model, but rather a necessary criticism of the current closed, non-transparent system. Until every user can look at the exact data underlying a computation, we have to take it on faith. This renders Wolfram insufficiently reliable as a scientific or academic resource. No other field would allow a black box to do its research and the community of W|A fans shouldn’t either. Thanks for the great work!

Posted by JO February 12, 2010 at 3:52 am

I have been having a great experience working as curator and good to see users being benefited with it.

Posted by Neil February 13, 2010 at 4:13 pm