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INTERNET GENERAL
By 18 May 2009 | Categories: internet general

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New “knowledge engine” Wolfram|Alpha now online

It is not often that, in the age of Google, a search engine comes along that actually manages to get people excited. Wolfram|Alpha (WA) has managed to do just that. But if you are expecting just another Google or Yahoo think again. WA is in their own words a “computational knowledge engine”. This makes WA excellent for systematic information such as solving calculations, proving the GDP of South Africa, or giving the amount of calories in 340 ml of beer. But if you are searching for a website to provide more information on buying a car, or the weekend’s result of the Bulls and Sharks game, WA doesn’t know what you are looking for.

What it can do

That is not to say that WA isn’t pretty impressive in the things that it can do. It is brilliant with calculations, providing date specific information or any information that is more scientific in nature. You can type in a difficult mathematical equation and WA will provide immediate results plus extra information such as graphs. You don’t have to wade through different website results as with Google- the answer is given to you immediately and without having to click any links.

A good way to think of WA is as a calculator that can do so much more. Type in “gdp south africa nigeria” and it will display information relating to the gross domestic product of the two countries, telling not only what the GDP of each is, but also providing graphs showing the growth of both countries’ GDP side by side, their unemployment rates, inflation rates and the percentage difference between the two. 

WA does not always get it right. On other requests that we thought straightforward WA’s alley, such as “South Africa’s gold production”, WA was left stumped. It also seems as if you must be very specific in your query- WA can provide you with “Nelson Mandela’s age”, but not just “Mandela’s age”.

Interesting queries

WA deals with certain queries quite well. Stuck with a crossword puzzle word you can’t solve? Type in the letters that you have (plus _ for the blanks) and WA spits out the matching probable words. Give WA a sequence of numbers and it will provide the rest of the numbers and the mathematical equation.

So while WA is good at proving answers to more scientific or objective questions, we are quite sure it won’t take serious search traffic away from Google. That said WA does have its place, and can become a valuable resource for students or people within certain job sectors, once one learn what queries WA can and cannot handle. The fact that the public can now provide daily feedback for the WA team to work with bodes well not only for the future of this new search engine, but also for the future of search in general.

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