Wolfram|Alpha was all over the newspapers recently, with many of them describing it as a ‘search engine’, while others more carefully replicated its own description of itself as a ‘computational knowledge engine’. I guess ‘search engine’ is a little easier for the general public to grasp, although it’s funny to think that even that term required some explanation to most of us only a few years ago
‘Search engine’ is, perhaps, easy shorthand for what is essentially a text box into which users can enter questions and receive knowledge in return. However, Wolfram|Alpha is, indeed, a quite different prospect to Google or Yahoo. It’s all about data and facts – it’ll answer mathematical formulae, it’ll tell you the weather on any date in the past, it’ll pull up statistics on GDP, exchange rates, mortality, and a vast range of other quantifiable data. For many of us, especially the non-academic, it’s a diverting toy; for others, including those needing quick answers for homework, it’s a very powerful tool.
When business people hear the words ‘search engine’, they may be tempted to ask, if this is the next big thing, should I optimize my site or look at advertising possibilities? Well, no. In this first version, there are no sponsorship or advertising opportunities, nor are there ranked results – just a definitive display of factual information. It’s interesting when you think about it: looked at like this, one realizes that Google doesn’t deal in definitives, but presents a number of alternatives, any one of which may be your answer.
Opportunities for your business may lie in the inclusion of a Wolfram|Alpha search box on your website if it is helpful to your particular trade. It can deal with exchange rates, weather forecasts, and size conversions, for example, so if you deal with international customers, holidays, or clothing, you can see how these features would aid your customers at no cost to yourself. If you wish to get more advanced, there is a freely-available API, or in other words, you may write your own code to get the Wolfram|Alpha data doing clever things for your website.
Meanwhile, Wolfram|Alpha says there ‘may’ be opportunities for targeted advertisements at some point in the future, so if that is something you’d be interested in, watch this space. If you’d like some advice on placing the Wolfram|Alpha search box on your site, or any other such developments, why not make contact with us?