Wolfram Alpha

Type of site

Answer engine 
Owner 
Wolfram Alpha LLC 
Created by 
Wolfram Research 
Employees 
200 (as of 2012) 
Website 
www.wolframalpha.com 
Alexa rank 
1,525 (April 2018)^{[1]}

Commercial 
Yes 
Registration 
Optional 
Launched 
May 18, 2009 (20090518)^{[2]} (official launch)
May 15, 2009 (20090515)^{[3]} (public launch) 
Current status 
Active 
Written in 
Wolfram Language 
Wolfram Alpha (also styled WolframAlpha, and WolframAlpha) is a computational knowledge engine^{[4]} or answer engine developed by Wolfram Alpha LLC, a subsidiary of Wolfram Research. It is an online service that answers factual queries directly by computing the answer from externally sourced "curated data",^{[5]} rather than providing a list of documents or web pages that might contain the answer as a search engine might.^{[6]}
Wolfram Alpha, which was released on May 18, 2009, is based on Wolfram's earlier flagship product Wolfram Mathematica, a computational platform or toolkit that encompasses computer algebra, symbolic and numerical computation, visualization, and statistics capabilities.^{[2]} Additional data is gathered from both academic and commercial websites such as the CIA's The World Factbook, the United States Geological Survey, a Cornell University Library publication called All About Birds, Chambers Biographical Dictionary, Dow Jones, the Catalogue of Life,^{[4]}CrunchBase,^{[7]}Best Buy,^{[8]} the FAA^{[9]} and optionally a user's Facebook account.
Overview
Users submit queries and computation requests via a text field. Wolfram Alpha then computes answers and relevant visualizations from a knowledge base of curated, structured data that come from other sites and books. The site "use[s] a portfolio of automated and manual methods, including statistics, visualization, source crosschecking, and expert review."^{[10]} The curated data makes Alpha different from semantic search engines, which index a large number of answers and then try to match the question to one.
Wolfram Alpha can only provide robust query results based on computational facts, not queries on the social sciences, cultural studies or even many questions about history where responses require more subtlety and complexity. It is able to respond to particularlyphrased natural language factbased questions such as "Where was Mary Robinson born?" or more complex questions such as "How old was Queen Elizabeth II in 1974?" It displays its "Input interpretation" of such a question, using standardized phrases such as "age  of Queen Elizabeth II (royalty)  in 1974", the answer of which is "Age at start of 1974: 47 years", and a biography link. Wolfram Alpha does not answer queries which require a narrative response such as "What is the difference between the Julian and the Gregorian calendars?" but will answer factual or computational questions such as "June 1 in Julian calendar".
Mathematical symbolism can be parsed by the engine, which typically responds with more than the numerical results. For example, "lim(x>0) (sin x)/x" yields the correct limiting value of 1, as well as a plot, up to 235 terms (as of 2013) of the Taylor series, and (for registered users) a possible derivation using L'Hôpital's rule. It is also able to perform calculations on data using more than one source. For example, "What is the fiftysecond smallest country by GDP per capita?" yields Nicaragua, $1160 per year.
Technology
Wolfram Alpha is written in 15 million lines of Wolfram Language code^{[11]} and runs on more than 10,000 CPUs.^{[12]}^{[13]} The database currently includes hundreds of datasets, such as "All Current and Historical Weather." The datasets have been accumulated over several years.^{[14]} The curated (as distinct from autogenerated) datasets are checked for quality either by a scientist or other expert in a relevant field, or someone acting in a clerical capacity who simply verifies that the datasets are "acceptable".^{[15]}
One example of a live dataset that Wolfram Alpha can use is the profile of a Facebook user, through inputting the "facebook report" query. If the user authorizes Facebook to share his or her account details with the Wolfram site, Alpha can generate a "personal analytics" report containing the age distribution of friends, the frequency of words used in status updates and other detailed information.^{[16]} Within two weeks of launching the Facebook analytics service, 400,000 users had used it.^{[17]} Downloadable query results are behind a pay wall but summaries are accessible to free accounts.^{[18]}
Licensing partners
Wolfram Alpha has been used to power some searches in the Microsoft Bing and DuckDuckGo search engines.^{[19]}^{[20]} With the first release on July 21, 2017, Brave web browser features Wolfram Alpha as one of its default search engines.^{[21]} For factual question answering, it is also queried by Apple's Siri, Samsung's S Voice, as well as Dexetra's speech recognition software for the Android platform, Iris, and the voice control software on BlackBerry 10.^{[22]}
History
Launch preparations began on May 15, 2009 at 7 pm CDT and were broadcast live on Justin.tv. The plan was to publicly launch the service a few hours later, with expected issues due to extreme load. The service was officially launched on May 18, 2009.^{[23]}
Wolfram Alpha has received mixed reviews.^{[24]}^{[25]} Wolfram Alpha advocates point to its potential, some even stating that how it determines results is more important than current usefulness.^{[24]}
On December 3, 2009, an iPhone app was introduced. Some users^{[26]} considered the initial $50 price of the iOS app unnecessarily high, since the same features could be freely accessed by using a web browser instead. They also complained about the simultaneous removal of the mobile formatting option for the site.^{[27]} Wolfram responded by lowering the price to $2, offering a refund to existing customers^{[28]} and reinstating the mobile site.
On October 6, 2010, an Android version of the app was released^{[29]} and it is now available for Kindle Fire and Nook. (The Nook version is not available outside the US). A further 71 apps are available which use the Wolfram Alpha engine for specialized tasks.^{[30]}
Wolfram Alpha Pro
On February 8, 2012, Wolfram Alpha Pro was released,^{[31]} offering users additional features for a monthly subscription fee. A key feature is the ability to upload many common file types and data—including raw tabular data, images, audio, XML, and dozens of specialized scientific, medical, and mathematical formats—for automatic analysis. Other features include an extended keyboard, interactivity with CDF, data downloads, indepth step by step solution, the ability to customize and save graphical and tabular results^{[32]} and extra computation time.^{[31]}
Along with new premium features, Wolfram Alpha Pro led to some changes in the free version of the site:
 An increase in advertisements on the free site.
 Text and PDF export options now require the user to set up a free account^{[31]} even though they existed before the introduction of Wolfram Alpha accounts.^{[33]}
 The option to request extra time for a long calculation is no longer available to free users.^{[31]}
 Stepbystep solving of math problems is limited to three steps for free users (previously uncapped). It has since been reduced to only one step with a preview of the second.^{[35]}
Copyright claims
InfoWorld published an article^{[36]} warning readers of the potential implications of giving an automated website proprietary rights to the data it generates. Free software advocate Richard Stallman also opposes the idea of recognizing the site as a copyright holder and suspects that Wolfram would not be able to make this case under existing copyright law.^{[37]}
See also
References

^ "Wolframalpha.com Site Info". Alexa Internet. Retrieved 20180417.

^ ^{a} ^{b} The WolframAlpha Launch Team (May 8, 2009). "So Much for A Quiet Launch". WolframAlpha Blog. Wolfram Alpha. Retrieved 20130209.

^ The WolframAlpha Launch Team (May 12, 2009). "Going Live—and Webcasting It". WolframAlpha Blog. Wolfram Alpha. Retrieved 20130209.

^ ^{a} ^{b} Bobbie Johnson (May 21, 2009). "Where does Wolfram Alpha get its information?". The Guardian. Retrieved 20130308.

^ "About WolframAlpha: Making the World's Knowledge Computable". wolframalpha.com. Retrieved 20151125.

^ Johnson, Bobbie (March 9, 2009). "British search engine 'could rival Google'". The Guardian. UK: Guardian News and Media. Retrieved 20130209.

^ Dillet, Romain (September 7, 2012). "Wolfram Alpha Makes CrunchBase Data Computable Just In Time For Disrupt SF". TechCrunch. Retrieved 20130209.

^ Golson, Jordan (December 16, 2011). "Wolfram Delivers SiriEnabled Shopping Results From Best Buy". MacRumors. Retrieved 20130209.

^ Barylick, Chris (November 19, 2011). "Wolfram Alpha search engine now tracks flight paths, trajectory information". Engadget. Retrieved 20130209.

^ "Data in WolframAlpha". Wolfram Alpha. Retrieved 4 August 2015.

^ WolframResearch (October 10, 2011). "Stephen Wolfram: The Background and Vision of Mathematica". Youtube.com. Retrieved 20130209.

^ Lardinois, Frederic (April 25, 2009). "WolframAlpha: Our First Impressions". ReadWriteWeb. Retrieved 20130209.

^ Wolfram, Stephen (May 15, 2009). "WolframAlpha Is Launching: Made Possible by Mathematica". WolframAlpha Blog. Wolfram Alpha. Retrieved 20130209.

^ Ozimek, Jane Fae (May 18, 2009). "Taking a first bite out of Wolfram Alpha". The Register. Retrieved 20130209.

^ Jack Krupansky (2009). "The Semantic Abyss  Plumbing the Semantic Web: Exploring the depths of the semantic gap between the Semantic Web and real world users and consumers".

^ Weber, Thomas E. (September 5, 2012). "Wolfram Alpha's Facebook Analytics Tool Digs Deep into Your Social Life". Tech. Time Magazine. Retrieved 20130209.

^ R., A. (September 21, 2012). "Visualising Facebook Who am I?". Graphic detail. The Economist. Retrieved 20130209.

^ Joanna Nelson (March 4, 2013). "A Wolf or a Ram? What is Wolfram Alpha?". Public Libraries Online.

^ Krazit, Tom (August 21, 2009). "Bing strikes licensing deal with Wolfram Alpha". CNET. Retrieved 20130209.

^ The WolframAlpha Team (April 18, 2011). "WolframAlpha and DuckDuckGo Partner on API Binding and Search Integration". WolframAlpha Blog. Wolfram Alpha. Retrieved 20130209.

^ "Brave Browser Github page". Github. Retrieved 10 August 2017.

^ "BlackBerry Teams Up with Wolfram Alpha For BlackBerry 10 Voice Control". BerryReview.

^ "Wolfram 'search engine' goes live". BBC News. May 18, 2009. Retrieved 20130209.

^ ^{a} ^{b} Spivack, Nova (March 7, 2009). "Wolfram Alpha is Coming – and It Could be as Important as Google". Nova Spivack – Minding the Planet. Retrieved 20130209.

^ Singel, Ryan (May 18, 2009). "WolframAlpha Fails the Cool Test". Wired. Retrieved 20130209.

^ Siegler, MG (December 3, 2009). "Nice Try, Wolfram Alpha. Still Not Paying $50 For Your App". TechCrunch. Retrieved 20130209.

^ Luoma, TJ (December 3, 2009). "WolframAlpha iPhoneformatted web page no longer available". TUAW. Retrieved 20130209.

^ Broida, Rick (April 1, 2010). "Get Wolfram Alpha app for $1.99and a refund if you paid more". CNET. Retrieved 20120228.

^ Rao, Leena (October 6, 2010). "Wolfram Alpha's Android app now available". TechCrunch. Retrieved 20130209.

^ "WolframAlpha: Mobile & Tablet Apps". Wolfram Alpha. 2013. Retrieved 20130209.

^ ^{a} ^{b} ^{c} ^{d} Wolfram, Stephen (February 8, 2012). "Announcing WolframAlpha Pro". WolframAlpha Blog. Wolfram Alpha. Retrieved 20130209.

^ Hachman, Mark (February 7, 2012). "Data Geeks, Meet Wolfram Alpha Pro". PC Magazine. Retrieved 20120215.

^ Orca, Surfdaddy (20090624). "A User's Guide to Wolfram Alpha". H+ Magazine. Retrieved 20130424.

^ "StepbyStep Math".

^ McAllister, Neil (July 29, 2009). "How Wolfram Alpha could change software". InfoWorld. Retrieved 20120228.

^ Stallman, Richard (August 4, 2009). "How Wolfram Alpha's Copyright Claims Could Change Software". Access 2 Knowledge (Mailing list). Archived from the original on April 28, 2013. Retrieved 20120217.
Further reading

Wolfram Alpha: A New Way To Search?, Stephen Wildstrom, BusinessWeek, March 9, 2009.

Stephen Wolfram's Answer To Google: If Wolfram/Alpha works as advertised, it will be able to do something Google can't: provide answers that don't already exist in indexed documents. by Thomas Claburn, InformationWeek, March 10, 2009.

Better Search Doesn’t Mean Beating Google by Saul Hansell, The New York Times, March 9, 2009.

Wolfram Alpha will Take Your Questions – Any Questions, Ian Paul, PC World, March 9, 2009.

Wolfram Alpha: Searching for Truth: Stephen Wolfram talks with Rudy Rucker about his Upcoming Release by Rudy Rucker, H+ Magazine.

"A hungry little number cruncher: Wolfram Alpha search tool mines databases to yield mathbased replies" by Hiawatha Bray, The Boston Globe, May 5, 2009

"Wolfram Alpha: Semantic Search is Born" by Woody Evans, May 21, 2009.
External links