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Wolfram Alpha: Like you need one more search engine!

22 Jun

I came across a really neat search engine, with an intriguing name of Wolfram|Alpha. It’s been just a month in business!

No, it’s not yet another search engine! (Especially after the hoopla over Bing – basically a re-branding of Microsoft’s un-sexy Live Search.) It’s a darn smart search tool for data-driven questions. The Wolfram Alpha folk call a a knowledge engine.

Why is this geeky search engine so useful?

You can get factual, unbiased answers to queries that involve a range of things from science and demographics to mathematics. It takes some learning how to use the query. You can use it for a veriety of reasons when you are working on reports, proposals, stories, or you just need to feed your brain!

For example:

  • You need to convert  20 million Italian Lira to US dollars. You simply type in 20,000,000 Lira (or Rupees or Yen) and hit the = sign. It converts it 5 currencies. But that’s not all. You can search a date in history and see data about that particular day.
  • If you want to compare the populations of Arizona, Texas and Nevada, you need to type ‘population Arizona Texas Nevada” and hit the equal sign —to get this result.
  • Get more detail demographic data. Let’s say you’re doing a story about people killed in the latest mass protests in Tehran. Type out “life expectancy of females in Iran” and you get some detailed numbers. (In Google, you’d have to sift through 54,000 results)
  • Check up on a web site by typing in the url. Say I wanted to chec Wikipedia. Using http://www.wikipedia.com gave me this with data about page views, visitors (120 million a day!) etc
  • Or simple things. You’d be surprised what you can find out about “one cup of water
  • Need to find something about a person in history on a specific date – say the Prime Minister of England in 1946

Wolfram|Alpha folk call it “an ambitious, long-term intellectual endeavor”  and is never intended to replace Google. But I find it fascinating how a more intelligent algorithm lets us look at information in smarter, specific ways.

Give it a try!

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