Playing With Wolfram Alpha

May 7, 2009
90 Views

Woo hoo, I have preview access to Wolfram Alpha! I’ve only had a short time to play with it, but I can already report that my experience confirms my previously expressed expectations: the NLP is very brittle, but there’s great potential for structured queries on quantitative data. Here is an example use case that, in my view, shows Wolfram Alpha’s strengths:

Wolfram Alpha

This bit of analysis tells a great story: Microsoft has almost three times as much revenue as Google, but Google has about 50% higher revenue per employee. Meanwhile, Yahoo is in third place on revenue,  number of employees, and revenue per employee. Ouch.

As I said, this query shows Wolfram Alpha favorably. What you don’t see are the false starts it took me to get this query to work. The NLP interface, in my view, is a really bad idea. Instead, Wolfram Alpha should be helping users generate good structured queries–and, better yet, helping other businesses build such queries through APIs. Wolfram Alpha could deliver an excellent plug-in for Excel, if they can expose a workable query API. I have no idea whether the company is able or willing to go down this path, but I hope someone there is listening

Woo hoo, I have preview access to Wolfram Alpha! I’ve only had a short time to play with it, but I can already report that my experience confirms my previously expressed expectations: the NLP is very brittle, but there’s great potential for structured queries on quantitative data. Here is an example use case that, in my view, shows Wolfram Alpha’s strengths:

Wolfram Alpha

This bit of analysis tells a great story: Microsoft has almost three times as much revenue as Google, but Google has about 50% higher revenue per employee. Meanwhile, Yahoo is in third place on revenue,  number of employees, and revenue per employee. Ouch.

As I said, this query shows Wolfram Alpha favorably. What you don’t see are the false starts it took me to get this query to work. The NLP interface, in my view, is a really bad idea. Instead, Wolfram Alpha should be helping users generate good structured queries–and, better yet, helping other businesses build such queries through APIs. Wolfram Alpha could deliver an excellent plug-in for Excel, if they can expose a workable query API. I have no idea whether the company is able or willing to go down this path, but I hope someone there is listening to this free advice.

I can’t share my account, but I’m willing to take suggestions for queries through the comment thread, and I’ll try my best to share what I learn.

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