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Wolfram Alpha

May 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Wolfram Alpha, WolframAlpha, Wolfram|Alpha – however you want to say it – has the Internet very excited. It chooses to avoid the term ‘search engine’ in favour of “computational knowledge engine” and works very differently from Google by providing actual answers to questions rather than links to potential answers. Questions can be as simple as How tall in the Eiffel Tower? to real time mathematical calculation of satellite positions across the sky. If this sounds impressive, that’s because it is and while I’ve written an extensive and enthusiastic piece about Wolfram Alpha on TrustedReviews the fact is it isn’t perfect. So what are the bad points?

The preamble: My cult and contentious reviews’ system. Designed as a time saver to highlight the potential deal breakers in a product before you commit to reading lengthy reviews on your favourites sites and/or magazines. For a more detailed description please read: the Rules

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Just the Bad Points Review: Wolfram Alpha

  • It takes time and practice to learn the correct terminology to get good results from Wolfram Alpha
  • Natural language interpretation is poor, more than 25% of queries trigger the response: “Wolfram|Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input”
  • It potentially damages traffic to traditional websites which spend time answering queries in greater detail
  • Topics such as mathematics, science, medicine and currency help academics but real world public usefulness is much lower at present
  • Many answers have little context
  • Answers take longer to load than the results from traditional search engines
  • Answers can be very dry. A search for Shakespeare, for example, could do with more than just his date/place of birth and a rather cold ‘timeline’
  • We know little of the financial security behind the project other than “Infrastructure for this computation provided by Wolfram|Alpha launch partner Dell, Inc”
  • Google is working on something similar with its Google Squared search project and its huge resources may outgun Wolfram Alpha

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