The goal of Wolfram Alpha (WA; www.wolframalpha.com) is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. But let's get to the point and answer the big question about WA: No, it isn't better than Google. And no, it won't answer your every question, or even most of them. And no, you can't completely trust it. WA is the creation of Stephen Wolfram; Wolfram's flagship product is Mathematica, a widely used mathematical analysis tool. WA, produced by Wolfram Research, applies Mathematica's computing technology to the analysis and retrieval of information. WA is not a Web search engine; it is accurately titled a "computational knowledge engine." It is actually more of a giant almanac/calculator.
36 InformationToday September 2009 www.infotoday.com Database Review Wolfram Alpha: Not Quite the Alpha Dog by MICK O’LEARY | T he goal of Wolfram Alpha (WA; www.wolframalpha.com) is “to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement OCLC’s Gateway every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to com- pute whatever can be computed about anything.” This makes the Google Highlights megalomaniacs seem as modest as Franciscan monks. The high-profile buzz Primary Source surrounding WA’s May release supported the ambitious mission statement, with adulatory and deferential coverage by The New York Times, The Wall Collections Street Journal, CNN, and NPR. This typically underinformed coverage OCLC cut the ribbon on its helped the WA mystique with its awestruck coverage of what appeared to WorldCat Digital Collection be a marvelous and mysterious new thing. Gateway, a service designed to help libraries and other in- stitutions maximize the visi- bility of primary source mate- rials. Gateway gives libraries a tool to upload metadata from primary sources that include photos, letters, and newspa- pers to WorldCat, where they will be more visible to internet searches. Gateway has been piloted in 12 institutions since May and is now avail- able free to any organization that uses OCLC CONTENTdm digital collection management software. Source: OCLC (www.oclc.org) Reprints Desk Partners With But let’s get to the point and answer the big question about WA: No, it FIZ Karlsruhe isn’t better than Google. And no, it won’t answer your every question, or Reprints Desk, the con- even most of them. And no, you can’t completely trust it. tent workflow company, joined Google (and to a greater extent Ask.com) will answer most questions bet- forces with FIZ Karlsruhe to ter than WA with three of the following reasons: put Reprints Desk’s eprint pro- curement service to work in • WA handles only a certain, specific kind of information; there are vast the FIZ AutoDoc system. The reams of valuable information that lie outside of its mission and design. transatlantic partnership was • WA is still early in its development. facilitated by Reprints Desk’s strong European presence, including an office in Cologne, Germany. FIZ AutoDoc is the document delivery service of choice for many • If the Holy Grail of this discussion is the perfect Answer Machine, of Europe’s largest corporations. then the general search engines are rapidly getting better at this. Source: Reprints Desk (www.reprintsdesk.com) So WA is not the Holy Grail of anything. But it is an ambitious and clever
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