First, it's an awesomely cool idea. Congrats to the Wolfram team for pulling it off so far.
Second, it's a freaking huge project. As much as they have, I can't help but think they're only about a 100th of the way towards something that might be truly comprehensive. Maybe a 1000th of the way.
Still -- kudos for setting it up. I sincerely hope it grows and becomes all that it can be. It will definitely take web research to a new level.
Perhaps they'll open Alpha up in a similar way to help make it comprehensive. Can you imagine how powerful this thing could become if third parties are also developing for it?
So ultimately I think thats what this is like a Google Base + computation where they have added (hopefully) enough of the core to push it over the hill.
A place to put structured data where it can be fully leveraged minimal effort from the data provider.
People are still going to type "how many calories in a big mac" into Google and get specialized sites that answer those questions fine. I don't think they'll go to WA when they have a habit and good success rate with getting those casual answers on Google. I think professionals and power users may use WA in cases they know it will give them great responses, but I don't see it changing many casual user habits.
What would be interesting is if WA actually caches search results and makes them indexable by other search engines like we do with bug.gd (which is similar in the sense that bug.gd is a specialized search service). This proves to create a tremendous amount of traffic and could make the provided/refined content much more likely to obsolete those niche sites.
Scaling will be a problem. It's doing more work than google, but without their datacentres, parallelization techniques or incremental experience. Being fast was at least half of google's success. (I agree it's not competing with google; it's just an example of scaling well.)
But, on Google, did you know they acquired http://www.gapminder.com ? And, if they get mobilized, why couldn't they follow where Wolfram has led - but with faster results?
I can't wait to play around with it; some of these examples (nutritional labels, the actuarial stuff, ISS location, etc.) are just dead cool.
I can see Google responding with a similar offering, especially with their impending Squares release. It'll be interesting competition flaring up in this space.
I don't think Wolfram Alpha is that. I think its goal is honestly too ... computational, logical, factual ... to have the broad appeal of Google. But I don't think that because something is fundamentally different than Google means that it's not the fabled Google killer.
Take a DVD player as an example, if he was inclined to load the data I could put in a model number and it could show me the technical specification, picture, manufacturer etc.
If I put in two model numbers he could compare them. Could he include in the contents things like product reviews? (is the only problem a trusted source for the data?)
Or, he seemed to have a link for movies - presumably if I type the name of a movie he can list actors, year of release, sales gross etc. If I put in a band can he tell me whether they're touring, back catalogue?
Its obvious from the demo he hasn't been building something to help me pick a DVD player to buy, but does anyone know if this system is likely in the future to support this kind of thing that would be useful to the layman? because that's what might scare Google (or not if I'm barking up the wrong tree here).
I hope they release a good API or just a formal query language, so I don't have second guess the NLP crap.
I WOULD PAY $100 A MONTH FOR THAT.
I can think of at least 10 different scenarios where I would have (tried to)used that and saved at least 2 hours per scenario.
My head just exploded - seriously.
If this is not all just rigged demoware, then he will succeed, and he's going to make a killing! He will benefit from the same incumbency factors that Google enjoys now, and he'll be a leader in the industry he is about to create.
If it's rigged demoware, he might fall flat on his face.
The important thing to understand is that Stephen Wolfram built Alpha as his personal "publication platform." He is going to use it to in effect "publish" his ideas about NKS and computation in general into immediately useful form, to the entire world. Rather than write papers.
Alpha isn't just some web startup looking for an exit. Its the culmination of a life's work in computation, and the offspring of a 20+ year old company.
I'm not sure who started the hype about WA as A.I. or Google killer or iPhone smasher or an immortality pill, it's certainly less than all these things. Just a pedantically well executed service. We'll see.
I can't tell you what revolutionary applications or mashups will make use of this data, but I can definitely say I was 'amazed' when he did demo that part of alpha. It's like I'm searching my body!!!
Not only chromosome traversing, there were a few other impressive things in the demo, but that's some level of structurization and formalization of certain knowledge domains done by respective professionals. Good job. No, very impressive, stunningly scrupulous job. But I see nothing revolutionary (edit:) technology-wise.
You might be mistaken there, Google very much uses NLP , though at the backend and not at the user interface.
Norvig himself said so ... I cant find to the exact talk where he said this( It was one moderated by Nova Spivak,if I can remember correctly) but here's a link to a TC article that discusses this ..http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/12/18/googles-norvig-is-down-...
Technically impressive? yes. Useful for most people? nah.
I would wager that a non-trival subset of users in fact do use natural language in searches, especially in the context of the 5 w's; "what is...", "where is...", "when is...", etc. These aren't technically more difficult to understand than your average search query and I would imagine with the volume of google's searches, they do a good job of dealing with these types.