Wolfram Alpha: a new way to search for answers

The latest Net buzz centers around a new “computational knowledge engine” called Wolfram Alpha. Wolfram Alpha is being compared to, or described as, a “Google killer”, which it is not. Wolfram Alpha is fundamentally different from a search engine like Google. Instead of returning a list of sites from your query, Wolfram Alpha returns an answer based on established facts. That is, your query is framed as a question you want answered, not a search for resources that can answer your question. Hence, the difference between Wolfram and other search engines like Google.

For example, entering a Google query of “weather on october 24 1984 Chicago Illinois” returns   links to sites that may contain the information I’m after.

Google Search results

Google search results

Click image to get actual Google search results.

The same query in Wolfram Alpha returns the actual data from 10/24/84 for Chicago in table and graph form.

Wolfram Alpha query

Wolfram Alpha query

Click image to see actual Wolfram Alpha results.

As a “computational knowledge engine”, Wolfram Alpha handles anything from converting units to complex mathematical formulas. But it also returns comparative data on such things as market information for two different companies. Wolfram Alpha provides many examples by topic to help you get started. I highly recommend, especially those in the sciences, to check out Wolfram Alpha.

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About Michael Ritter PhD
Professor of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, science textbook author, educational technology blogger, podcaster, and freelance media consultant.

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