Search Engine Summons Data, Doesn't Slay Google

Media Morph: Wolfram Alpha

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Wolfram Alpha
WHAT IT IS: Wolfram Alpha is a "computational knowledge engine" conceived by scientist Stephen Wolfram. It made its debut last week and, despite the fact it's been commonly compared to other search engines -- everyone's looking for the next Google -- it isn't really that similar at all. While Google indexes and searches the web, Wolfram Alpha is able to process factual data that's been curated by the Wolfram team and converted into forms that can be run through computations.

A FEW EXAMPLES: Type in an age, gender and place of residence, and it'll spit out average life expectancy. Or type in the name of a town somewhere in the world, and it'll tell you population, time, elevation, nearby cities, etc. Enter a math formula, x^2 sin(x), and it'll render the plot, alternate forms, the root and other goodies only numbers geeks could get excited about.

GOOGLE KILLER? Hardly. The tech community is pretty excited about what Wolfram can do because it's another sign of how much room there is for search and information navigation to evolve. But it's a very different type of engine than the web search we're used to. As CNet's Stephen Shankland pointed out: "It'll tell you the family, genus, species and caloric value of an apple, and it'll forecast Apple's stock price, but it won't give you apple-pie recipes."

THE AD ANGLE: Wolfram does see advertising as part of its future business model. At present, the company is concentrating on "major corporate sponsorships" but might offer more targeted ad opportunities down the line. A few folks on the web spotted a Lenovo ad showing up against the query for "pi." So if you're a marketer looking to reach math majors and engineers, it could be a quality vehicle. For the rest of us, it's a fun new internet plaything but nothing to replace our current search options.

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