Wolfram|Alpha considers itself to be a “computational knowledge engine”, which in laymen’s terms consists of a site where you can search for factual information. The website handles quantitative knowledge and directly answers questions as opposed to supplying the user with links to locate the information themselves.
Launched May 18, many people thought Wolfram|Alpha would be a new search engine that would compete with Google, but that isn’t the case. The website is in no way similar to Google. For instance, it will not provide you with driving directions or information about local events. However, it will provide information on medical computations, hospital information, mortality data, and human growth charts.
The site is updated frequently and claims to obtain most of its data from systematic sources. For example the weather and financial inquiries are continually streaming. In addition, references can be located at the end of each results page.
One of the major drawbacks with using this search engine is that it is not exactly user friendly. Unfortunately, you have to utilize very specific syntax or search within the examples provided. Also the majority of information contained on the site seems to involve scientific information; as such your results can be nowhere near what you expect. Results that concern questions on science and math have the best answers, this is due to the fact that Wolfram|Alpha stemmed from the developers of Mathamatica software. If you are a first time user, it is suggested you start with examples. Similar to a “gigantic brain, it doesn’t know everything, but it knows a ton — and discovering what it knows is half the fun of using it (Conlon, 2009)”. There are still kinks in the site, but Wolfram|Alpha possesses great potential that has yet to be seen.
For additional information:
The Grouse Weighs in on Wolfram by Tom Conlon
Wolfram Alpha Searching for its Niche by Tom Krazit
Wolfram Alpha Show Data in a Way that Google Can’t by Stephen Shankland and Rafe Needleman
Wolfram Alpha the New Greek Almanac by David Coursey