Wolfram Alpha is a new search engine that's a little different, and (if it survives the Yahoo/Google/Bing fight) may be of surprising use to those of us who play with information for a living.
Google dominates the search engine market right now, and its public data tool is a welcome addition. Microsoft's attempt to get into the game with Bing may shake things up a bit. But Wolfram Alpha is an intriguing source -- it bills itself as a "computational knowledge engine" and aims "to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone."
From their website:
We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything. Our goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.
Wolfram|Alpha aims to bring expert-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people—spanning all professions and education levels. Our goal is to accept completely free-form input, and to serve as a knowledge engine that generates powerful results and presents them with maximum clarity.
As of now, Wolfram|Alpha contains 10+ trillion of pieces of data, 50,000+ types of algorithms and models, and linguistic capabilities for 1000+ domains. Built with Mathematica—which is itself the result of more than 20 years of development at Wolfram Research—Wolfram|Alpha's core code base now exceeds 5 million lines of symbolic Mathematica code. Running on supercomputer-class compute clusters, Wolfram|Alpha makes extensive use of the latest generation of web and parallel computing technologies, including webMathematica and gridMathematica.
What does this mean? I plugged in "unemployment rate Duval County Florida" into Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Wolfram Alpha. Here's what I got (top result only):
Yahoo: Duval County, Florida Zip Code, Radio Stations, Crime Rate, Weather ...
Duval County, Florida (FL) Zip Code, Radio Stations, Crime Rate, ... Unemployment rate in 2004: 5.2% Average household size: Duval County: 2.5 people. Florida: ...
www.usaelectionpolls.com/cities/Florida/Duval-County.html - Cached
Bing: Unemployment Rate: Duval County, FL, Florida; Percent; NSA
The best economic data site with over 100,000 series. Users have the ability to make their own custom charts, XY plots, regressions, and get data in excel files, or in copy ...
www.economagic.com/em-cgi/data.exe/blsla/laupa12060003 · cached page
Google: Unemployment Rate: Duval County, FL, Florida; Percent; NSA
The best economic data site with over 100000 series. Users have the ability to make their own custom charts, XY plots, regressions, and get data in excel ...
www.economagic.com/em-cgi/data.exe/blsla/laupa12060003 - 30k -
(I forgot -- had to try a couple of times to get the formatting right for Google's public data site) "unemployment rate duval" returned:
(some of the graph cut off when I grabbed the image -- that's my fault, not Google's.)
Wolfram Alpha, on the other hand, gave me this:
Then I got a little creative. I asked for "unemployment rate Duval County Florida/unemployment rate united states" and got this:
Now that's pretty cool. They'll grab data as data and do computations with it -- this is a real step forward to a semantic web. So bookmark www.WolframAlpha.com and see what other goodies it has in store. This is really neat stuff.
(Hat tip: L. Gordon Corvitz)