The Wolfram Cometh

May 15, 2009
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If you’re curious about Wolfram Alpha but tired of reading second-hand reports and third-hand hysteria about it, then be assured that your wait for first-hand access is almost over. Their blog reports that they will launch today.

It’s been an interesting pre-launch hype cycle, particularly since I’ve gotten to watch it from a pretty good seat–a perk of being an obsessive a prolific blogger.

The initial marketing and buzz offered a level of hyperbole comparable to the hype that surrounded the publication of Wolfram’s New Kind of Science (appreciated NKS by Wolfram and fans) seven years ago. Regulars may recall that I responded by calling it “A New Kind of Marketing (NKM)“.

Apparently sensitive to the dangers of being hyped up (and thus set up to fail) as a “Google killer”, Wolfram Alpha’s marketing team reached out to influencers (and a few little people like me), offering demos and explanations. In fact, I think they were doing an admirable job of mitigating the original damage–up until April 28th. That day, as Wolfram himself was giving a public demonstration of Wolfram Alpha at Harvard, Google releasing Google Pub

If you’re curious about Wolfram Alpha but tired of reading second-hand reports and third-hand hysteria about it, then be assured that your wait for first-hand access is almost over. Their blog reports that they will launch today.

It’s been an interesting pre-launch hype cycle, particularly since I’ve gotten to watch it from a pretty good seat–a perk of being an obsessive a prolific blogger.

The initial marketing and buzz offered a level of hyperbole comparable to the hype that surrounded the publication of Wolfram’s New Kind of Science (appreciated NKS by Wolfram and fans) seven years ago. Regulars may recall that I responded by calling it “A New Kind of Marketing (NKM)“.

Apparently sensitive to the dangers of being hyped up (and thus set up to fail) as a “Google killer”, Wolfram Alpha’s marketing team reached out to influencers (and a few little people like me), offering demos and explanations. In fact, I think they were doing an admirable job of mitigating the original damage–up until April 28th. That day, as Wolfram himself was giving a public demonstration of Wolfram Alpha at Harvard, Google releasing Google Public Data to the general public. Ouch. To add insult to injury, Google’s Matt Cutts says the timing was a coincidence–an accidental upstaging!

In any case, the release of Google Public Data amplified the pressure on Wolfram Alpha. A week later, the latter was offering preview access to reporters and bloggers, presumably knowing that the testers would compare the two offerings side by side. Meanwhile, Google has continued raising the stakes through announcements like this week’s preview of Google Squared. I doubt the two companies are as focused on one another as the blogosphere makes them out to be, but it’s certainly an entertaining David vs. Goliath story (albeit where the David has a Goliath-sized ego).

And today is public launch day for Wolfram Alpha. I wish them luck! But I’m pretty sure that many of the people who’ve been waiting for this access will be disillusioned as they struggle with the  NLP interface. None of the marketing team’s attempts at expectation management can mitigate the frustration of an undocumented, brittle interface. Ah well. I did try to tell them. I hope they can make it past that initial blow and then reconsider their approach to the interface.

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