A Tale of Two Search Engines: Wolfram's Alpha & Google Public Data Search

Image representing Wolfram Alpha as depicted i...
Image via CrunchBase

There is talk in the tech world of upstaging and skullduggery (I just really wanted to use that latter term in a post) between the mysterious Wolfram / Alpha search engine and the very recently release (read: yesterday) of Google’s new Public Data Search and Charts. All of the hoopla concerns the mining of structured data (data that is susceptible to treatment by semantic overlay). Wolfram / Alpha is a computational knowledge engine to be launched at some point in May. The engine will seek to “compute” actual answers to query questions with factual results rather than a list of sites containing search terms without regard to their relationship. The language interface will be sensitive to how questions are framed. The results will be based on fields of knowledge, data and algorithms. The engine will compute the answer, rather than relay canned answers to specifically programmed questions. If you would like to read more detail on how it will work (I definitely recommend the read – it is fascinating), check out this guest post at TechCrunch.

Yesterday, during the first public demo of the engine by Wolfram, Google announced on it’s blog the newly available ability to find and compare public data. The example cited by Google in the blog is the unemployment rate in Santa Clara County as compared to the national average. Format the search as suggested by Google in the blog and you will get factual results. Click on the results and you will see an interactive chart that lets you add or remove data. Google posits that there are tons of “interesting public data” to be mined on the Web in this fashion. “No duh” on that count!

Why now, Google? Could Google be worried about competitors like Wolfram / Alpha and the improved research experience they promise? I am thinking that they should be. So does Wolfram / Alpha: they apparently fired back at Google with some screen shots showing just how superior the Alpha experience is. Check the article about the cross-fire here.

TechCrunch’s article belies a “show me the money” attitude that tends to favor the vastly more limited offering from Google because it is a “bird in the hand” and the Wolfram / Alpha, despite public demos and screenshots, is still just “vaporware” at this point. I respectfully disagree. I am far more excited about what Wolfram has promised than by what Google has produced.

All sparring aside, the real winners here are us ‘Net-users who regularly look on-line for research needs. As the brilliant Web architects come up with better, faster and more accurate means of mining and distilling the vast amounts of on-line info, we will reap the benefits in the fruits of our own Web labors.

Edited to fix the massive typos and grammar errors from my %$#@#$& iPhone keyboard.

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2 comments on “A Tale of Two Search Engines: Wolfram's Alpha & Google Public Data Search

  1. Google is a jealous company. They like to be in the spotlight, and when they aren’t they get mad.
    So they try to steal the spotlight by announcing products on the same day as other companies in their field.

    Another example: on the same as Bing was announced, Google announced Wave (after the Bing announcement).

    I am beginning to like Google less and less.
    I am certainly using Google less and less, so perhaps this trend is no surprise.

  2. I find it interesting that Google is in reactionary mode with the move towards the semantic Web, as evidenced by their response to Alpha and Bing. I am sure that is in part due to their heavy investment in their particular brand of search, but it does not take a rocket scientist to see where search is going and to plan accordingly.

    While it is entertaining to watch the antics of the big search purveyors, I still stand by the conclusion that we consumer searchers will really be the winners of their race to greatness.



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