It may look as if it’s just another search engine with a search box and an equal sign that functions as the search command button, but it differs in how it renders results. WolframAlpha generates output by doing computations from its own internal knowledge base, instead of searching the web and returning links. It’s not like Google, Yahoo, and other search engines that display links to websites that may contain the answer you’re looking for and it’s not a database of knowledge like Wikipedia. Wolfram calls it a computational knowledge engine.
According to Nova Spivack, CEO of Radar Networks:
Wolfram Alpha is a system for computing the answers to questions. To accomplish this it uses built-in models of fields of knowledge, complete with data and algorithms, that represent real-world knowledge.
For example, it contains formal models of much of what we know about science — massive amounts of data about various physical laws and properties, as well as data about the physical world.
Based on this you can ask it scientific questions and it can compute the answers for you. Even if it has not been programmed explicity to answer each question you might ask it.
But science is just one of the domains it knows about–it also knows about technology, geography, weather, cooking, business, travel, people, music, and more.
It also has a natural language interface for asking it questions. This interface allows you to ask questions in plain language, or even in various forms of abbreviated notation, and then provides detailed answers.
The vision seems to be to create a system which can do for formal knowledge (all the formally definable systems, heuristics, algorithms, rules, methods, theorems, and facts in the world) what search engines have done for informal knowledge (all the text and documents in various forms of media).
I don’t think WolframAlpha is threat to Google, nor it would replace the search engine. WolframAlpha works in a different way. It gives factual answers to questions that need data. It wouldn’t give you results on where to watch streaming videos or download freewares.
It may not be embraced by all. It may have glitches or flaws at the moment. But WolframAlpha is one major search breakthrough.
How I wish it was launched when I was in college. 🙂