from the “this is potentially very cool if it works” dept.

Came across this story by chance via an article in a Twine update that I was about to delete. Anyway, I caught the name Wolfram so thought I’d take a peek. The name might ring a bell – it’s Wolfram as in Wolfram Research, as in Stephen Wolfram of Mathematica fame. No slouch when it comes to all things mathematical. In any event, apparently in May he will unveil Alpha which, I gather from the article, is a “computational engine” that will actually compute answers to plain language queries. A brief sampling from the article:

For those who are more scientifically inclined, Stephen showed me many interesting examples — for example, Wolfram Alpha was able to solve novel numeric sequencing problems, calculus problems, and could answer questions about the human genome too. It was also able to compute answers to questions about many other kinds of topics (cooking, people, economics, etc.). Some commenters on this article have mentioned that in some cases Google appears to be able to answer questions, or at least the answers appear at the top of Google’s results. So what is the Big Deal? The Big Deal is that Wolfram Alpha doesn’t merely look up the answers like Google does, it computes them using at least some level of domain understanding and reasoning, plus vast amounts of data about the topic being asked about.

It will be interesting to see how (and whether) it actually performs. Given Wolfram’s credentials, the huge effort (undertaken in stealth mode it seems) and data that has gone into it and the positive articles to date (such as the one below) it does sound very promising.

From a legal perspective, it will be interesting to see how content used in the engine has been utilized and how the rights to such content (assuming there is at least some non-public domain material used) have been dealt with. From a tech perspective, it will be very interesting to see what the iron powering this thing will look like, particularly if it starts getting millions of queries a day, how the underlying algorithms work and the extent to which it can evolve and improve over time (I hesitate to use the word “learn”). And from a biz perspective, it will be interesting to see whether Wolfram takes a google-type approach to revenue generation (i.e. ads) or whether he has something else up his sleeve. Check it out for yourself in May.

via Wolfram Alpha is Coming — and It Could be as Important as Google | Twine.

Of Search Engines and Competition (Part II)

Read a very interesting article on the weekend on how Yahoo! blew it. No, they’re not really a search engine, or rather weren’t really a search engine, but thought I’d mention it given my previous musings on search engines. The article, I think, demonstrates pretty clearly how quickly things can change in the online world, and how the balance of economic power can very quickly change so that the one puny underdog can become the king of the junkyard, so to speak. Not that Yahoo! is exactly the picture of abject failure. But, relative to Google, they certainly have some catching up to do. And if Google isn’t very, very, very careful, they may very well be in the same position a few years from now – struggling to catch up with the brash young upstart that has come up with the Next Big Thing…

Of Search Engines and Competition

Interesting post on the Wellington Financial blog. In short, sounds like they think the success of a new vc financed search engine hakia is unlikely to be around very long. An excerpt.

But it really isn’t clear why the rest of us will rip out the Google toolbars or Yahoo Finance pages and convert to another aggregator. Well, maybe we could stand t dump Yahoo Finance.

Youtube, flickr and the like were serving a need. There’s no obvious need for a better search engine. And if there is, Google has proven that they have a few billion to invest on improvements and the currency to acquire along the way.

imho the better question would be why not? changing a search engine is about as hard as changing your undies – either type it in or change your homepage. why even bother with a toolbar? no idea about hakia but i do remember yahoo, altavista, hotbot and a couple of other engines that were at one time or another at the top of the heap.

relatively speaking, in terms of switching costs from the user perspective a search engine isn’t close to most other things (e.g. operating system, office applications, etc.).

and sure, google has lots of coin. but at one point it didn’t. and there wasn’t exactly an absence of search engines when they popped up…

will it be a success? no idea. could it? why not? I’d certainly use it if it’s better than google.

BTW, in case someone from WF is reading this here, tried leaving a comment, couldn’t as your captcha doesn’t seem to be working and PS you might want to try hashcash instead.

Update: and its not like Google hasn’t had its fair share of troubles lately.