Jason in a Nutshell

All about programming and whatever else comes to mind

Can we please stop comparing Wolfram Alpha to Google?

Posted by Jason Baker on May 20, 2009

What if I told you about a website that can:

  • Build a knowledge base and pull data from it based on search text.
  • House the expertise of many of the worlds’ foremost authorities on a subject.
  • Give you a link or two to more information about that subject.

Does that website sound like a Google killer to you?  If you said yes, you’d be completely wrong.  I was actually talking about Wikipedia.  Now, it sounds really stupid to compare Wikipedia and Google.  And there’s a good reason for that:  it is stupid.

However, when you focus on the little bit of overlap in functionality that exists between the two services, it becomes a lot easier target for IT journalists and bloggers to spin into the next “Google killer.”  The comparison between Wikipedia and Google draws an obvious likeness to comparing Wolfram Alpha to Google.

After all, Wolfram Alpha is a website that can:

  • Calculate answers based on arbitrary queries.
  • Pull in data from the web to build a knowledge base.
  • Answer many questions that we use Google for currently.

However, there’s one thing that Wolfram Alpha can’t do:  search.  In fact, the first of their FAQs is “Is Wolfram|Alpha a search engine?”  The answer is obviously no.  Can Wolfram Alpha help me find that one really good article or blog post I’ve forgotten how to locate?  No.  Can it help me find more information about vague programming concepts?  No.

So why do people keep asking the question Is Wolfram Alpha a Google-killer?  There’s one common thread that ties bloggers and journalists together:  the need for attention.  Calling Wolfram Alpha a Google-killer is grandstanding, plain and simple.  Maybe this kind of grandstanding was acceptable when the details on Wolfram Alpha were sketchy, but it’s not now.  Thus, I would be suspicious of anyone who actually takes the question seriously.  And yes, that does apply even if their answer is no.

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One Response to “Can we please stop comparing Wolfram Alpha to Google?”

  1. ggw_bach said

    the inventor (the same person who created mathematica) is a bit of an attention whore.

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