Is Google Afraid of the Big, Bad, Wolf?

So, if you were one of a handful of geeks on Friday night you were glued to a live video stream that was something of a cross between Mission Control at NASA and a skit from Saturday Night Live, then you witnessed the live launch event for WolframAlpha.

Among the digital know-it-alls, Wolfram/Alpha has been labeled the "Google Killer" - but that's far too simplistic, and frankly not that interesting.

But make no mistake, Google was very much on the minds of everyone watching or participating in the Wolfram launch.

Why?

Because, as they quickly pointed out - "Search" as Google has come to dominate, is a long way from being done evolving. In fact, if Wolfram/Alpha teaches us anything - it's that search, and the web itself, are evolving and morphing so fast that you can almost begin to imagine the sci-fi vision of the web becoming self-aware. Ok, maybe that's a bit to far, but before you decide that Wolfram/Alpha is just another over-hyped software launch - try this:

Now, try this: Enter "IBM Apple"

Immediately there's some comparative data that is pulled from multiple sources and laid out in a coherent way. Google can't do that. Neither can Wikipedia. Nothing could before, creating semantic relationships between datasets and presenting the results in real time.

Try it again: this time: "USA China"

Did you know that IBM has more than 3 times the revenue of Apple. I sure didn't.

Wolfram/Alpha calls itself a "computational knowledge engine" but what it actually is a formatted aggregation of data rather than the lists of sites we've become accustomed to from Google. Wolfram Alpha is built on "hand-curated" knowledge and expertise - gathering sources and building models for how to find data to respond to specific sets of questions.
Wolfram|Alpha gathers data based on your search and returns you with the answers using charts, graphs and other appealing visual styles.

Here' are a few more to try:

Music: "D dominant eleventh"

Anagrams: "n-grams it was the best of times it was the worst of times"

Last one: "ISS" for International Space Station

WolframAlpha is brainchild of Stephen Wolfram, the founder of Wolfram Research, whose most well-known product to date is Mathematica - a super-geeky math computational platform. He says the goal of WolframAlpha is to "make the worlds knowledge computable for everyone." Nice goal, don't you think?

So Wolfram is cool. But what it gives us a glimpse into is SUPER COOL. The future isn't going to be pages of text and lots of text ads (thank god!). It's going to be what is being called the Semantic Web. Simply put, the web will become aware enough of the data that exists in all its nooks and crannies that it can do more than give you a pile of data, it can actually crunch it - and give you answers.

Here's an example. Imagine you are planning a vacation to Ireland. You've got some requirements (four star hotel, kid friendly, golf) but you've also got some flexibly in dates and even destinations. Imagine if a search could aggregate air fair, hotel availability, room rates, dates, and then layer Trip Advisor user reviews on top of that. Don't tell me you haven't spent hours pouring over web sites trying to do that planning a family vacation. Wow, I want that now!

Things are changing, and we're just able to glimpse around the corner. Will we be "Wolfing" our next vacation travel matrix? Maybe (I do love the world Wolf), its hardly the point. And don't count Google out - they're certainly not sitting around the Googleplex ignoring the need for search to evolve from searching to solving. But aggregated data sets and curated data sets are certainly a step in the right direction.

Here's what Stephen Wolfram has to say about why WolframAlpha matters.