Wolfram|Alpha lives up to it’s “alpha” naming
Category: Blog

Today over lunch coworkers were talking about Wolfram|Alpha and it sparked my interest again now that it’s finally open to the public. Tonight I decided to give it a whirl and unlike two of my friends, decided to throw it a softball initially with a very easy question:

what is the speed of light in free space?

Pretty much any geek worth his/her salt should know the answer to that question without batting an eyelash. Browny points to those who know it down to a couple decimal places in meters per second. Obviously since most of the examples on the homepage of the site are technical / mathematical related, it should get the answer right off, yes?

Well, that logical conclusion is apparently flawed as it failed. See the screenshot here:


Even Google (which has been lacking lately in search result quality, IMHO) did a better job than that as seen here:


They obviously don’t provide the answer, but the first result gives one enough confidence that it’s a no brainer to click on it. Now for the best overall of the three, Yahoo!, does one better than Google by not only including the same result, but also gives me the exact answer I am looking for right there in the result excerpt (which Google conveniently truncated with ellipses) as seen here:


At the end of the day, the score stands at:

  • Wolfram|Alpha = 0
  • Google = 1
  • Yahoo! = 1.5

With the bonus points for Yahoo! in saving me an extra click.

Glad to see our search still stands proud. Wolfram|Alpha definitely has a lot of promise and potential, but it’s still yet to be seen whether it will live up to that lofty goal.

Update: Interestingly, if you wanted to know what the speed of light in parsecs per millennium was, it could definitely provide that answer to you. ;) Also if you think it failed simply because I said “what is the” at the beginning of the query, you would be wrong. For it to provide a result I would have to drop my query down to just “speed of light”, which wouldn’t necessarily be what I am looking for because the speed of light is variable where as the “speed of light in free space” is a constant value.

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