Another week, another Google killer. Last week Twitter, this week Wolfram Alpha.
You’ve probably seen the hype about Wolfram Alpha over on Twitter, in fact just about everywhere. But what exactly is it?
Wolfram Alpha is a computational knowledge engine for the Web. Ask Wolfram Alpha a question, and it works out the answer for you. So far so Google.
However, it doesn’t simply return web pages that might contain the answers, like Google does, and it isn’t just a giant database of knowledge, like Wikipedia.
Instead, Wolfram Alpha actually computes the answers to a wide range of questions. Questions that have factual answers such as “What country is Timbuktu in?” or “How many protons are in a hydrogen atom?” or “What is the average rainfall in London this month?”
Think about that for a minute. It computes the answers. “What was the price of oil on February 3, 2007″ yields over 19 million answers on Google. In theory, Wolfram Alpha should give you one hit: the answer to your question.
Of course, there are some questions it will be good at answering, and other questions for which we will still use Google and Twitter. Nick Spivack of Twine has put together a great analysis from a more technical perspective here.
But what are the wider implications of Wolfram Alpha exactly? A new paradigm for using computers and the web? Probably. Emerging artificial intelligence and a step towards a self-organising internet? Possibly.
For now, we’ll have to wait until launch in May to see the reality. However, I think this could be big.