18 May 2009

WolframAlpha, Google, and Wikipedia

I have long used Google as a search engine, for obvious reasons. From the moment I saw an article about it in Wired - so very, very long ago - and heard about how great its PageRank system was (assigning each site a value based on how many other sites found it worthwhile to link to it, thereby divining it would be more desired by the average searcher), I knew Google was great.

Supplementing it has been Wikipedia, also for obvious reasons. Harnessing the collective power of a million obsessives with a handful of facts and the brute force of a clumsy kind of democracy-by-persistence, it has become a huge database of every kind of bizarre information and essential set of facts; it is the best encyclopedia ever written, and only getting better.

Of late I have added Wolfram Alpha, a new search engine that is designed to assemble and present sets of facts. It's already pretty amazing; the page on "ibuprofen," for example, is exactly what I wanted. But it's highly technical, and still pretty stupid.

A sample search query shows off their various skills:  Query: "population of the earth."
Google returns relevant pages that discuss the topic. Wikipedia returns a long and well-written article. And W|A returns a simple number and small block of demographics.

In other words, we have a set of three amazing tools that all attack the same string from different ways.  Google gets webpages, Wikipedia serves up the enyclopedia, and in the future, W|A will be for all of my data needs.  So ignore the hubbub about one of the three dying.  That won't happen for long years, and will be because of some other reason.

EDIT: The Atlantic is stealing blogs from me. Boooooo.

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