A trivial pursuit
If you’re like me, you’re always on the lookout for trivia. I think it’s fascinating that I know that:
- the sun rose at 5:06am the day I was born but also that there were no known notable events that day (which is false, obviously);
- Dave was used as a female’s name in the US in 1882 and there’s also a company called Famous Dave’s of America (currently trading at $6.25 USD or $7.80 AUD, a market cap of almost $56 million and 3100 employees);
- the colour “burnt umber” on a computer screen in 14% blue and is complimentary to a nice dark sea green…
In the lead up to its release, this “computational knowledge engine” was touted as another Google Killer. However, even Mr Wolfram himself said that it’s no competition: it’s nothing like Google. As you might have realised, Wolfram|Alpha is a fact finder and an equation calculator. It’ll plot you a graph for x^2 sin(x) but it won’t help you research User Experience Design for a university assignment. Google will.
It’ll tell me the atomic weight of Tungsten (apparently called “wolfram” in German) but it won’t tell me what it’s used for or what common substances contain it. I can find out the current unemployment rate of North Dakota but it won’t give me an opinion on why it’s so high or what can be done about it.
Wolfram|Alpha does link you to the associated Wikipedia page for any particular topic and even straight to a Google search. I can see its uses (like plotting sine graphs and finding unemployment rates) but it’s not a search engine and doesn’t claim to be. The average person will have little use for it besides fun trivia discoveries, like finding the major exports of Bolivia (natural gas and soy beans, so they say).
Wolfram|Alpha is an amazing technology. It’s definitely fun to play with and they say it’s only the first step in their goal to “bring expert-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people” (About Wolfram|Alpha). I’d say this is a pretty worthwhile goal and I’ll be excited to see how it pans out.
In the meantime, though, I don’t think Wolfram|Alpha will surpass Google as a “quick fact finder” for most people. Google will tell you the current USD/AUD exchange rate or how many grams are in a pound really clearly and really easily – no other chaff to trawl through first.
What interesting facts have you found with Wolfram|Alpha or how have you used it for a legitimate purpose??