In my last post I touched on the semantic web and how the Internet will come to understand your query and find your information directly. Well it turned out to be interesting timing as the following week Wolfram|Alpha has launched. For those not up to date with such things (which I expect is most people reading this blog) Wolfram is a new search engine that claims to make the world’s knowledge computable. If you give it a search term, rather than giving a list of websites about your keyword like Google does, it will trawl its knowledge base and provide the answer directly. For example if I put in a maths equation Google will direct me to a maths website, while Wolfram will just give me the answer. Great for students, but how does this help the rest of us? And is it of any use to anyone planning a holiday?
Well the short answer is yes and no. It does some things very well, and others you’re better off using Google. As an example let’s say I’m planning a holiday to Barcelona in Spain next Saturday. So if I try to book a flight, Wolfram doesn’t really know what to do with my query.
Whereas Google is a lot more useful in this respect.
The difference is much the same when looking for airport parking and airport hotels. However what I think these kind of searches show is that Wolfram isn’t a search engine at all. At least not like Google in any way.
If I try “Barcelona” the results are a lot more useful.
What’s interesting is that the data that Wolfram brings back is absolutely up to date. It shows current weather, today’s weather. This I think could be fantastic holiday information. It could be really handy for anyone holidaying in the UK, at least you’d have an idea when it’s going to rain. You can even look up the weather in advance. I did a search for the weather in Barcelona next Saturday. Wolfram|Alpha shines in this respect giving me a detailed forecast and meteorological history. A search in Google brings up several websites with good information, but the beauty of Wolfram is that it’s right there on the SERP (search engine result page).
Comparing the two engines in this way is perhaps unfair. They’re entirely different animals and at the moment, not really in direct competition. Wolfram is fantastic for technical information. When travelling you can find information about the country you’re visiting – population, GDP, area, currency etc but it won’t give any opinions or pictures. If you need a quick currency conversion then Wolfram is the place to go. For a well-rounded opinion on a place and pictures then the websites Google brings you are a better bet. I’m continuing to play around with Wolfram, and if anyone thinks of a killer way to use it for travelling then feel free to let me know.