Friday, May 8, 2009

Alpha, Beta, Google

Later this May, a new software tool becomes available to the public at  If the wildest dreams of computer scientist and creator Stephen Wolfram come true, then his "computational knowledge engine" will rival the all-powerful Google as a place for people to find information on the internets.

The strength of Google at its inception was then and has since been the power of its patented pageranking system to obtain historically relevant results for search queries based on how many times a page has been linked by other websites, representing a "vote" for its content.  This proves orders of magintude more useful than simply scanning for documents in which a keyword or words appear most often.

Wolfram Alpha promises to distill values from user input down to an even finer scale, incorporating natural language software to catch out useful, correct and comprehensive replies to specific queries.  Alpha has been hailed as everything from "the next Google" to the next "next Google" to join the ranks of overhyped search competitors.  A great first look can be found at Danny Sullivan's search engine land.

Wolfram Alpha wasn't designed to make Google obsolete.  It's just one more step toward a more intelligent web.  If it does what other successful information systems have done---and that is to reduce the distance between meta-information and ourselves---then it is one more step toward a more intelligent us.

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