WolframAlpha Needs Work

There's been a lot of hype around WolframAlpha so I thought I'd test it out today.

Here's what I think so far:

  1. Simple facts might be hard to get
  2. The name is a mouthful
  3. The brand is inconsistent
  4. I'm curious about the revenue

Simple facts might be hard to get

I was away from a computer when I first thought to test it, but I had my iPhone on me, so I quickly went to the new site and tapped "number of chromisomes in a chimp" and hit "Go". Oh well, I thought. I mis-spelled chromosomes (easy to do in a web form on the iPhone), but it should give me a proper spelling to click.

Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input.

Hmm, ok. I tried the proper spelling and full name of the animal: "number of chromosomes in a chimpanzee".

Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input.

Perhaps I'm using it wrong. Google got me the answer pretty quickly even though the answer didn't come from Google (but another site on the internet.) So I tried out what was supposed to be a Google-killer: Cuil (improper spelling to be fair).

No results were found for: number of chromisomes in a chimp

Proper spelling? That got me to a place to look.

According to Wolfram: "We are not a search engine. No searching is involved here". That's fine but a search engine got me my answer. It's 48 by the way.

Forbes magazine had this to say:

...Wolfram Alpha's biggest strength may also be its biggest weakness: The datasets behind its calculations are curated by hand—hundreds of them—and somebody plugged them into the system.

Uhh... really!? I guess that's a necessity for a useful and friendly tool but I was still shocked when I read that. Here's my contribution then:

Dear WolframAlpha,

A chimpanzee has 48 chromosomes.



WolframAlpha is a mouthful

It doesn't roll off the tongue as much as it gets stuck coming out. That could be a really good thing if the product is really good. A name that's difficult to pronounce may increase the amount that people tend to discuss it... that gets the name around.

Aside from my search, it produces some great things which could be expected from the makers of Mathmatica. But I fear the advent of startup companies with names like DolphinFrankenfurter. Alright, that doesn't have the difficult "lfr" in the name, but it'll do for a me-too company name.

The WolframAlpha name should be more consistent

The logo seems to say WolframAlpha, but everywhere else that it is written in reads Wolfram|Alpha... What's with the pipe and it's inconsistent usage? Is it WolframAlpha, Wolfram Alpha or Wolfram|Alpha?

I'm curious about the WolframAlpha source of revenue?

Forbes magazine also points out that:

It would be more than foolish to assume Wolfram Research can monetize Wolfram Alpha in the way Google has monetized its search engine through its lucrative paid search business...

It would, wouldn't it. Because that's not the same target market. And making money on ads might mean you need to ensure that a lot more information was readily availabile. Such as the number of chromosomes in a chimp.

Wolfram Research has not said how it intends to monetize its new search engine, but a preview of it offered to Forbes hints at one approach: There's a "Featured Sponsor(s)" module hidden in the code, commented out by the developers. The copy used is dummy text, but suggests that one revenue stream for Wolfram Alpha will be from display ads.

Hmm. I already see ads appearing for featured sponsors, so perhaps that's the route they've chosen. But perhaps a better path would be to charge for it. If it's a great service that is worth money then people will likely pay to use it. It works for Lexis Nexis.