6 October 2009 | Team Tamar

Don’t forget about Wolfram Alpha

Wolfram Alpha had a large surge of traffic a few months back when it launched and was lauded by some as “the Google killer”.


“Killer” it was not, nor was it ever intended to be. It is a different kind of animal altogether, but it should not be forgotten about.

I have kept using Alpha for anything that I dont think Google can do. I am not exactly in the market for high maths and the like, but I like the curated aspect of Wolfram Alpha: I trust its answers. If  my question is vague it doesn’t try and match me with the closets random answer, it tells me that it does not know what I am asking.

I have put together a number of queries where Wolfram Alpha outstrips Google:


GoogleWolfram Alpha – The result is a runaway success for Wolfram, it lists all the possible information I would want if I were searching for the colour equivalent of this hash.

Blue + red

GoogleWolfram Alpha – This set of results is much sneakier, as adding up colours is probably a long way away from Google. Wolfram does have the advantage here because of its mathematical background, but it’s still a job well done.

Population of South Africa vs population of United Kingdom

Google, Wolfram alpha – This one is actually a good testament to Wolframs interpretation of an almost natural language request. Google still does its normal word association looking for the string in various texts on the web – Wolfram goes straight ahead and understands the intent of the query. Although it struggles with some semantics I am finding a few that work very well.

Obviously Google would excel at traditional web queries like celebrity or history and can get everything that Wolfram Alpha presents – it just takes another click or two. The nice thing about Wolfram Alpha is the thouroughness of the results: they are very specific. For example “lilac + mauve” could either be a comparison of two plants (I didn’t know there was a mauve plant either) or a mix of two colours. The interface is quite simple and helpful and the information offered about the plant is quite comprehensive. In the plant example there is a lot of potential and it would be very easy for the Wolfram team to insert factors like leaf shape, height of plant, seasonal facts and so on.

I don’t think we should disregard Wolfram Alpha just yet. The team are always coming up with new innovations and expanding on the volume of data they can sift through to answer your question.


Team Tamar