Wolfram Alpha: Not Quite the Alpha Dog by ProQuest


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									 36        InformationToday
September 2009   www.infotoday.com

                  Database Review

          Wolfram Alpha:
          Not Quite
          the Alpha Dog
          by MICK O’LEARY      |

                  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
          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
          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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