Wolfram Alpha is the new golden boy in the block, the new "Google Killer". There has been a procession of sorts of Google Killers in the last couple of years, from Ask to Cosmix, to Searchme to Quil. So, with some tired anticipation, I took Wolfram Alpha, the Wolrd's Computational Engine, for a test drive.

First the news: It is not a search engine.

Second, the bad news: It is not a "Google Killer".

Third, the good news: It is good at what it does.

So, lets get through the test-drive of Wolfram Alpha.

Query: Paul McCartney

Nice: Full name, Date of birth, Place of birth etc. Useful information. Not so nice: the timeline graph is a dummy.

Query: Betales

Not so nice: The topic is under investigation! Beatles?

Query: Zaheer Khan

Not so nice: No result.

This, as I would later find, is the essence of Wolfram Alpha. It knows about a very few things, and it knows them well. For the very vast amount of the rest that it knows nothing about? well, there is Google.

And you call that a "Google Killer"?

Query: Mono Lake

Nice: 69.5 square miles area, 141 feet deep, elevation 6381 feet, Satellite image (takes you Google maps!). Not so nice: Map does not work.

Query: Ulsoor Lake

No result. Gives me Lake Ulster, NY, instead. Hmmmm. I wanted the burger, not the frys! When I look at Google, there are 34000 results, including one from Wikipedia.

Query: Bangalore to Miami

Nice: Distance, flight time, populations, elevations Not so nice: No weather information

Query: 45 mph

Nice: conversions to other units.

Query: C Eb G C

Nice: Finds the music scales.

Query: Height of Mt Shasta

Nice: finds the height.

Query: Height of Mt Tamalpais

Not so nice: Mt Tamalpais? Hmmm. Whats that? We will need to ask Mr Wolfram.

Queries: Crow, Bangalore, Yahoo, Mission College, Thar Desert, Nike, Citric Acid

Nice: Works well, with a lot of category-specific details.

Queries: Length of Honda Accord, Pandu College, Latitude of Thar Desert, Sepoy Mutiny, Nike Air Jordan, Bokeh, Nikon D80

Not so nice: Knows nothing about these.


Well, I guess I am done with my test drive. Wolfram Alpha is very very far from a search engine. It knows about a few things, and it knows them well. It does some computations (presumably using Mathematica) to show some interesting results about the few things it knows about.

I would not write off Wolfram Alpha. It has complemetary technolgy which is likely to be useful to "real" search engines, such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.

Wolfram Alpha is, therefore, a good add-on.

And an aquisition target.

Soon, I guess.