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Yesterday's release of "computational knowledge engine" Wolfram Alpha generated a lot of debate, with some folks falling over themselves to praise it, while others poured cold water on it.

Wolfram Alpha launches

To try to cut to the chase I thought I'd ask a few of the UK's search industry ninjas to comment. So is it a Google killer, or just Cuil MKII? Here's what they had to say...

Teddie Cowell, SEO Director at Guava

"We love it. Unlike some of the search community that have been giving it a hard time and comparing it to Google, we are completely aware that it is not intended to be a search engine in the traditional sense.  Comparing Wolfram Alpha to Google is like comparing chalk and cheese.

"It's quite clearly stated as a computational knowledge engine, and although it does really lack a lot of data and functionality it can do some really incredible things.

"Yes - it lacks enough data sources. Yes - it cannot compute anywhere near enough things yet. Yes - the servers are getting constantly overloaded. But as we expected we are blown away the maths processing functionality, overall the results that do work are excellent, and when it does load it's quite a well polished presentation of the results. We will be trying to contribute in order to make it better."

Feedback from Andreas Pouros, COO, Greenlight

"While I can see what Wolfram Alpha is trying to achieve, (both enviable and interesting), it isn’t really that impressive when the search mechanism is restricted to selected databases and feeds. 

"The general approach is sound – using structured data from vetted sources to build a searchable knowledge base with a computational edge. However, semantic search will make this something that can be very easily replicated and therefore will mean that other search engines can emulate and surpass Wolfram’s approach without even having to build the functionality beyond processing semantic tags. 

"To be fair, Wolfram Alpha isn’t claiming to rival Google. So, not a ‘Google killer’ as has been reported, but a useful experiment in information retrieval. If you search for ‘expenses scandal’ Wolfram returns no results, whereas Google returns 4 million. When people search they want answers, but often the answers can’t be found in vetted sources, so semantic mark-up across all web documents is critical.

"A Google killer would need to embrace the semantic web and be instrumental in creating it. It would need to be something that finds a way to factor in reader sentiment and social media, spider the web and also have a marketing budget in multiple millions, with an even bigger tech infrastructure budget. Wolfram has none of these things.

"Also worth noting is that Google already has an answer of sorts to Wolfram Alpha in Google Squared, which tries to compile data in a more factual, tabulated format for comparison rather than in the usual text snippet approach, but does it automatically without requiring armies of staff like Wolfram. Wolfram clearly has a long way to go to become useful."

Paul Doleman, CTO at iCrossing

"I am really enjoying it. Think encyclopaedia analogies - Wikipedia steps in and kills Encarta / Britannica / Collins et al. Wolfram feels just as revolutionary as a super powerful research tool and could attract the interest of serious research professionals - and general public alike - and make sense of all that unstructured, disconnected data out there on the Internet. 

"If something can access those unstructured islands of data, make sense of them, categorise and neatly label and throw them into a database then maths geniuses like Stephen Wolfram can unlock them and turn that data into information with powerful results.

"The sheer speed at which the engine interprets requests and presents interesting information alone is impressive, but Wolfram really comes into its own when you throw together several items for comparison.

"Wolfram will harvest more and more data, incorporate clever linguistics, incorporate semantic research, boost the presentation of results and increase the overall algorithmic intelligence (right now only possible through breakthrough maths that interprets data - not links). When this all comes together, it will undoubtedly touch consumer journeys and go mainstream.

"Right now it is breakthrough maths, a brilliant tool, fascinating for research purposes and powerful enough to evoke a response from Mountain View with announcements like Google Squared and their similar goals. Just perhaps we have seen the end of the beginning of Google’s dominance, even though there's still a long way to go before we reach the end of the end, but Wolfram has fired the first salvo in next generation search."

Andrew Girdwood, head of search at bigmouthmedia

"Wolfram Alpha shows people there are other ways to think about search and that's important. Everyone should visit Wolfram Alpha at least once. To try it and look for one of the Easter Eggs.

"It is wrong to compare Wolfram Alpha to Google in a head to head way. They're different creatures. Wolfram Alpha shows the PR battle Google faces. There's a hunger for competition. In some cases there's a rather mean-spirited desire for Google to bellyflop.

"Wolfram Alpha was a trending term on Twitter. Can you imagine how awesome a Wolfram Alpha that analysed the Q&A responses of Twitter tweets would be?"

Andy Heaps, Head of SEO at Latitude Group

"Wolfram Alpha couldn’t help me in finding cheaper car insurance. However, when I needed to know the number of vertices of a truncated icosahedron it did the job brilliantly! That optimises everything about the perception of Wolfram Alpha – it’s not a Google killer, it’s not a Google competitor, and was probably never meant to be – its self-proclaimed long term goal is to make 'all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone'.  

"The already well-known 'Wolfram Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input' will probably soon be synonymous with Twitter’s ‘fail whale’ unless people start using it for what it should be used for. I can’t imagine people ‘Wolframming it’ but I do think it has the potential it becoming the default engine for facts and figures based searches."

It's early days yet, and perhaps too early to make any firm judgements, but what are your first impressions of Wolfram Alpha?

[Image by david.orban on Flickr, various rights reserved]

Chris Lake

Published 19 May, 2009 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

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Felicity King-Evans

Felicity King-Evans, Copywriter at HappyCopy

I don't know why everyone is looking to see if it is a Google-killer, it serves a completely different purpose.

Comparing it to Google is like comparing a calculator to an encyclopedia - it will never measure up because it does a different job.

I think it is an impressive tool that will be popular with scientists, mathematicians, statisticians and the like, but never with people who want to know where to get local pizza or good web design.

Calling it a 'fail whale' for filling a different niche will be pretty short sighted - it is a shame the press need the Google-killer angle to consider it newsworthy.

Felicity

Journalist and SEO copywriter

over 7 years ago

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Jess

That is an interesting point.  All of the world is comparing it to Google, possibly without trying it out.  Yes, you enter something into a searchable box, but it is not meant to produce the same results.  This was an interesting take on the debate:

http://www.newsy.com/videos/wolfram_alpha_a_google_nemesis

over 7 years ago

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Sophie Guellard

It's clear, even from this fairly brief discussion that Wolfram is not set to be a "Google killer".

Although Wolfram is an immensely powerful online tool which uses a whole host of complex algorithms to produce an output based on a user's query, to view it simply as such is far too basic and it is on this overly simplistic basis that people are drawing analogies with Google.

That said, (and I agree entirely with Paul Doleman's comments) one area in which Wolfram could give Google a serious run for its money is academic research.

Everyone from school children to the crème-de-la-crème of professional academia use Google to support their research projects. Wolfram definitely appears to pose a serious threat to Google in this sense. And although Wolfram doesn't seem likely to steal any of Google's clout over the average user or commercially-minded consumer, it will be interesting to see how Google responds to this encroachment on their turf.

In response to Andrew Girdwood's comment about Wolfram being able to analyse the Q&A responses of Twitter tweets: that's not just "awesome", it's completely mind blowing!

over 7 years ago

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steve burton

I love this new  wolfram as very use ful keep up the good work and hope it just gets better and better the maths think is just perfect to work out any think

over 7 years ago

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CJ

I like the post, but I don't think the title is quite right. For me the search community is the IR community. This list represents experts from the search engine marketing community.

over 7 years ago

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biz

Wolfram Alpha is a good news in the area of search engines. It has some advantages compared to the other search engines. Still, it is not the competition to Google or other search engines, since it uses totally different approach. It is more like dictionary or encyclopedia than search engine.

about 7 years ago

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