Talking Tech Friday – Wolfram Alpha

Wolfram|Alpha came out of private beta this week, and I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about it.  I thought it’d be a timely topic for this week’s Talking Tech Friday, so here you go!

What is it?

Wolfram|Alpha is a new service that aims to “make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone.”  It’s not exactly a search engine, more of a data search tool.  However, the data you can search is quite broad; anywhere from mathematical equations to the gross national product of Spain, to the weather in Provo, UT on June 22, 1977.

How does it work?

Wolfram|Alpha doesn’t search the web for results, they are delivered from an internal knowledgebase curated by their Experts Network, to which “qualified academic, industrial, trade, or professional expert[s] in virtually any field” are welcome to apply to join.  They also seek volunteer curators to help fill in in the blanks – as they say “Computers and algorithms can take things only so far—at some point, if you want to be sure the data is right, you need a human being to look at it.”

They provide an Examples page, which helps detail the types of questions that can be asked of Wolfram|Alpha, as well as how to formulate the question. The FAQ mentions that their first concentration was on subject areas where math and computation are the strongest, but they are continually expanding that data.  Wolfram|Alpha can tell me that while my BMI is normal, I would be my ideal body weight if I lost 9 lbs.  Probably all those peanut M&Ms I eat while blogging don’t help.

A few nice features: At the bottom of each results page, you can see the sources from which the data were derived and you can download a results page as a PDF.   The downloads page offers a variety of tool bars, search boxes, and an iGoogle gadget (I added a search box to my browser).

There is also a fantastic screencast that gives a very thorough introduction and demonstration of what Wolfram|Alpha is capable of.  I encourage you to take the time to watch it.

Possible Library Uses

Obviously, this is a great resource, and is a lot of fun to explore. I also think that it would be ideal for librarians to get involved with the project.  What are your thoughts?


~ by Anali on May 22, 2009.

2 Responses to “Talking Tech Friday – Wolfram Alpha”

  1. Действительно полезный пост, спасибо.

  2. […] Wolfram|Alpha debuted this past year, and I still think it’s pretty nifty. […]

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