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Wolfram Alpha (with a search for a sine identity)

A search for the molecule testosterone features 3D renderings of the organic steroidal molecule.

A search for a song lyric from the Beatles movie "Yellow Submarine" yields no direct results, though it does return a link suggestion to a page on the movie.

Wolfram Alpha is packed with Easter eggs, including this popular riddle.
New website provides a unique search experience and some fun Easter eggs

A new player hit the search engine market this weekend -- Wolfram Alpha.  Written by Steven Wolfram, math wonder and author of the Mathematica software, the site claims to be the internet's first "computational knowledge engine".  The engine is truly different from other engines as it tries to provide direct answers to math and science problems.

If you're confused at what this means, you're not alone -- Wolfram Alpha represents a totally different experience from the standard search engine.  Typing "(sinx^2)+1" will bring up a page of equations, mathematical identities, graphs, and more.  Or typing "testosterone" brings up chemical formulas and information, naming information, and multiple images of the molecule, including 3D renderings. 

In short, whether your question is science, math, language, or history related, Wolfram likely has an answer for you.  However, the key thing holding Wolfram Alpha back from being a Google-killer is its lack of support for more traditional searches such as pop culture references.  If a Beatles fan types in "She loves me, yeah yeah yeah," Wolfram will not find any results.  Another reference -- "We all live in a yellow submarine" -- did return a link to the Yellow Submarine movie as a suggestion, but again, no direct knowledge that could have been inserted here, such as lyrics or band pictures.

Wolfram Alpha, however, compares very favorably to Wikipedia in many respects.  While it has fewer articles on its site, it provides more pertinent information on many topics, and also has fewer questions of accuracy.

Another thing to like about Wolfram Alpha is that its developers, including Mr. Wolfram himself, had a keen sense of humor.  Typing "why did the chicken cross the road?" yields the answer "to get to the other side".  Typing “88 mph” yields under the "speed comparisons" subcategory "= speed at which Marty McFly needed to drive the Delorean DMC-12 in order to time travel."

A final caution is to avoid judging Wolfram Alpha too early when it comes to comparisons with Wikipedia and Google.  The site offers user submitted content, to be reviewed by editors, so in time its pop culture knowledge base should grow.  Key questions remain -- will this growth make the site as utilitarian for all searches as Google?  Will its editors be careful enough to beat the accuracy of user-edited Wikipedia?  And perhaps most importantly, will Wolfram Alpha be able to effectively use advertising to power its future growth?

The answers to all these questions remain to be seen.  However, for now Wolfram Alpha is an intriguing prospect that will complement our traditional searches, if perhaps not replacing them.

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Not impressed
By bubba551 on 5/18/2009 1:44:52 PM , Rating: 5
It could not even tell me "the maximum velocity of an airborn swallow."

RE: Not impressed
By BBeltrami on 5/18/2009 2:37:46 PM , Rating: 3
No doubt... All I asked is how far the swallow can carry a coconut and it started taunting me in an outrageous french accent.

RE: Not impressed
By sinful on 5/18/2009 9:00:25 PM , Rating: 3
It could not even tell me "the maximum velocity of an airborn swallow."

African, or European?

What, you expect it to read your mind?

RE: Not impressed
By MADAOO7 on 5/20/2009 8:54:09 PM , Rating: 2
actually you just didn't ask it right. Ask, "What is the air velocity of an unladen African swallow?" and you'll have your answer. =)

It's Alpha
By Dorz on 5/18/2009 9:18:50 AM , Rating: 5
"However, the key thing holding Wolfram Alpha back from being a Google-killer is its lack of support for more traditional searches such as pop culture references. If a Beatles fan types in "She loves me, yeah yeah yeah," Wolfram will not find any results. "

Hence Wolfram "Alfa".

Similarly if you type: walking 45mins, 4mph . It finds results, but change it to: cycling 45mins, 12mph and it "doesn't know what to do with your input".

Hence "ALPHA", still working on it. Give it time for cripes sake it was only launched today.

Also why is everything a "Killer"? All the tech sites I visit love to say "Killer" for almost every new bit of tech that's released - its a load of hyper bull and nonsense....This is different to google, so I don't see how its a google "killer".

RE: It's Alpha
By JasonMick on 5/18/09, Rating: 0
RE: It's Alpha
By GaryJohnson on 5/18/2009 1:17:27 PM , Rating: 2
I know you didn't use the word "killer", but your previous article on wolfram did make mention of google, yahoo, etc. Even at that time it was clear it was more of a wikipedia type thing than a webcrawler.

RE: It's Alpha
By ussfletcher on 5/18/2009 5:32:35 PM , Rating: 2
Actually he did use the word killer..

However, the key thing holding Wolfram Alpha back from being a Google-killer is its lack of support for more traditional searches such as pop culture references.

RE: It's Alpha
By AnnihilatorX on 5/18/09, Rating: 0
RE: It's Alpha
By Shmak on 5/18/2009 5:38:32 PM , Rating: 2
Ultra Combo!

By STILTO on 5/18/2009 2:20:30 PM , Rating: 2
I typed Google and instead of reference to a number I was given stocks on GOOG?

RE: Google
By imperator3733 on 5/18/2009 3:02:48 PM , Rating: 5
Try typing the actual name of the number instead of the company name.

RE: Google
By lco45 on 5/18/2009 8:27:55 PM , Rating: 2
You're thinking of googol.


wolfram | a heavy grey-white metallic element...
By vladio on 5/18/2009 1:34:32 PM , Rating: 1
try: gold -> gold (chemical element)
try: wolfram -> ... Stephen Wolfram (scientist)
Expected: wolfram | a heavy grey-white metallic element; the pure form is used mainly in electrical applications; it is found in several ores including wolframite and scheelite
or...I expect too much?!
or...something very wrong in this picture?

By JoeBanana on 5/18/2009 2:55:39 PM , Rating: 2
Right below the query:

"Assuming "wolfram" is a person | Use as a chemical element or a word instead"

Just click on chemical element to show that...

By vladio on 5/20/2009 2:38:57 PM , Rating: 2
There are 15544 unique 'Gold' last names in the United States --
There are 17,513 unique 'Silver' last names in the United States --
There are 1,251 unique 'Wolfram' last names in the United States --
There are 6,732 unique 'Zink' last names in the United States --
There are 1,964 unique 'Copper' last names in the United States --
...need more samples ?!
Search be ANY element...think...write
Q: so, Why ONLY 'wolfram' is a person? ...coincidence, right?

By Nappy on 5/18/2009 3:18:39 PM , Rating: 2
No the problem is that you don't understand how to use it.

Try looking right below the search to change to an element or word or anything else.

Link Broken
By SpaceRanger on 5/18/2009 9:06:08 AM , Rating: 2
The second link in the article is broken.

RE: Link Broken
By Brandon Hill on 5/18/2009 9:10:09 AM , Rating: 2

RE: Link Broken
By SpaceRanger on 5/18/2009 9:12:43 AM , Rating: 2
Danke :)

Very nice!
By SpaceRanger on 5/18/2009 9:15:05 AM , Rating: 3
I just used it for the first time just now, and wow. I like it. Did a search on some weather related events back in 1987 and the information it poured out was outstanding. Off to go play with it some more..

RE: Very nice!
By juve on 5/19/2009 12:42:20 AM , Rating: 2
I input my birthday & got cool results.
It's smart & useful, Well done, deserves our support

Accurate Sources: NONE
By maxcue on 5/18/2009 11:17:42 AM , Rating: 2
People love to bash Wiki for only being *only* 75% accurate (or whatever it is, I'm sure it changes) but they've been shown to be within a point or three of print encyclopedias and I'd bet my life either is way more accurate than the 20+ year-old text book crap we expect our kids to learn from. Even our *own senses* are subjective. Pertinent Quote I've Heard: I was lucky enough to attend a Gene Roddenberry lecture while at college and a quote he said (I think with great accuracy) that has really stuck with me was: "People say 90% of TV is crap. Hell, 95% of EVERYTHING is crap." I agree. It's the sorting out the useful or true that is so hard.

RE: Accurate Sources: NONE
By foolsgambit11 on 5/18/2009 8:46:55 PM , Rating: 2
"They call television a medium because it's programming is neither rare or well done." Or however the quote goes.

But yes, people give Wikipedia less credit than it deserves. Probably because it's edited by regular people, and they give regular people less credit than they deserve. I like the fact that Wikipedia has articles on things that a regular encyclopedia would never touch. Those are the kinds of things that you have to take with a grain of salt, of course, but at least there is a compendium of knowledge on whacked out fringe science out there somewhere.

Good for comparisons
By nafhan on 5/18/2009 11:17:47 AM , Rating: 2
It's pretty interesting for doing comparisons of items. Enter two company names, and it compares financial data. Enter the names of two counties in VA (for example), and it returns demographic data. Enter multiple countries and it returns average demographic data for those countries. Fun to play around with. I can see using this over Wikipedia for quick fact checks and comparisons.

Limited sense of humor?
By fmk2 on 5/18/2009 6:48:02 PM , Rating: 2
With regard to the site's sense of humor, I agree that the 88 mph response is pretty good. But I was disappointed to see that entering "42" didn't get a single reference to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. That's the first reference returned by Google.

What fun is a new search tool if you can't get humorous results from obscure queries?!

Nothing to see here :)
By tshen83 on 5/18/09, Rating: -1
RE: Nothing to see here :)
By Spivonious on 5/18/2009 9:30:29 AM , Rating: 2
RE: Nothing to see here :)
By tshen83 on 5/18/2009 9:32:47 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah, Wolfram Alpha is nothing but an online and distributed version of Mathematica.

What is the business model to come then if they offer Alpha for free? Free always overcuts commercial products like Mathematica. I am not sure that Wolfram made a wise choice here unless he can soon find a viable business model.

Human Discourse :)

RE: Nothing to see here :)
RE: Nothing to see here :)
By mudgiestylie on 5/18/2009 7:10:43 PM , Rating: 2
man, i told my algebra teacher that in high school and of course he said i was wrong and just being argumentative and sent me out of the room... wolfram has vindicated me after all this time. thank you internet.

RE: Nothing to see here :)
By vladio on 5/18/2009 1:41:29 PM , Rating: 2
By FITCamaro on 5/18/09, Rating: -1
RE: Great...
By Brandon Hill on 5/18/2009 9:20:31 AM , Rating: 5
Are you opposed to the use of calculators instead of a slide rules when doing homework? ;)

RE: Great...
By PrinceGaz on 5/18/2009 10:51:35 AM , Rating: 3
I'm not just opposed to the use of calculators, I'm opposed to the use of slide-rules instead of abacuses when doing homework. Those new fangled slide-rule things make it too easy.

RE: Great...
By AnnihilatorX on 5/18/2009 11:30:13 AM , Rating: 2
We had to learn how to use Abacus in secondary school in Hong Kong.

RE: Great...
By MrPeabody on 5/18/2009 11:48:43 AM , Rating: 2
Apparently, Wolfram has anticipated such opposition and has already taken steps to stifle it.

RE: Great...
RE: Great...
By emboss on 5/18/2009 10:00:46 AM , Rating: 3
RE: Great...
By tshen83 on 5/18/2009 10:06:22 AM , Rating: 3
if (input == "What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything?")
return "42";

Wolfram's algorithm isn't systematic unlike Google's systematic Map Reduce, meaning that Wolfram Alpha manually categorize Query types and answer each category of query. You simply can't do that.

Also for simple questions like "What is ...." "Who is....", Alpha doesn't even know what to do with it. So the lingustic parser and interpreter is far weaker than Google or even powerset's.

RE: Great...
RE: Great...
By MrPeabody on 5/18/2009 10:14:25 AM , Rating: 2
Ha! Indeed. But then, so did Wikipedia.,_t...

I think this one's a wash.

RE: Great...
By spwrozek on 5/18/2009 9:54:30 AM , Rating: 2
I don't know my Calc 3 Mathematica lab was pretty much awesome. I created some wicked complicated shapes using my calc skills. (for the record though that program is a major pain in the ass, at least when I used it 5 years ago)

RE: Great...
By mudgiestylie on 5/18/2009 7:34:48 PM , Rating: 1
Doing extra work for works sake is kinda silly. Avoiding pointless work isn't lazy, its efficient. Why don't we all quit being lazy and get off the internet and start writing letters with pen and paper, or better yet, walk to one anothers homes (or swim across the oceans for the readers across the pond) and illustrate our points face to face. Does everyone in here do all their work-related math on pen and paper and show all the steps involved? If there is an easier way to do something (ethically of course), you should do it that way.

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