Sometime ago Wolfram Alpha went live. Wolfram Alpha is a new search engine, so naturally it get's compared to Google, and other new search engines. In many cases the results for the comparison isn't in favor for Wolfram Alpha. The Register writes:
Alpha is the finest example of the tragedy that results when an academic tries his hand at building a successful web product.I think these kinds of comparisons miss the point. Wolfram Alpha doesn't compete with Google (yet). If you are looking for a workaround for some bug in a library, Wolfram Alpha won't help you a bit.
But if you are looking for a simple fact Wolfram Alpha is awesome. Try Birthday of Obama or Speed of Light. You don't get a link to a page containing the information. You get the information! Straight to your screen.
Nothing special you might say, I get that almost as well if I search at Wikipedia. True, especially since a lot of the data is actually coming from Wikipedia. I is gathered from Wikipedia with the mechanics of the semantic web. This means that facts at Wikipedia aren't simply text or number fields, but they carry some kind of annotation so that computers can interpret that data. There have been some tools around to query this data, but they where awfully complex to use. Definitely nothing for end users. Wolfram Alpha is different. Type in a phrase just as in Google and you get the results. Easy as searching should be.
So why is that important? Because this might be the killer app that the semantic web is looking for! We know can easily search the semantic web, which right now means: "largely Wikipedia" but if Wolfram Alpha gains some traction they will include more and more sources, sooner or later including 'wild' sources like blogs. It will also mean others like Google will use the semantic web as well, and who knows maybe it actually will happen: The next internet revolution is dawning on us.
Oh and as usually nowadays, when you see something that seems to be new, it was already covered at TED, in this case by Tim Berners-Lee.
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