Today was supposed to be a big coming out party for stealthy search engine Wolfram Alpha. Computer scientist Stephen Wolfram gave the first public demonstration of his knowledge mining search engine at Harvard. But to be honest, not too many people were paying attention because A) who wants to sit through a two-hour Webcast and B) Google decided to tease its own efforts at adding structured data to search during the demo.
Not long after that, we received the screenshot above from an anonymous “benefactor” of Wolfram Alpha asking “which one is computing about the future?” The Wolfram screenshot shows a search for “ISS” and the results show the flight path and current position of the International Space Station, along with its altitude, velocity, inclination, orbit type, and other useful stats. Google population search, in contrast, plots basically one data point over time (although, you can easily add others). The suggestion is that Google quickly ginned up its public data search feature to undermine Wolfram’s debut. And it worked. Nobody really paid attention to the two hour snorecast (except Larry Dignan at Cnet—thank you Larry for sitting through it so the rest of us didn’t have to).
To be fair, some people who have seen it are very excited about the Wolfram search engine (Nova Spivack, for one, argues persuasively that it is going to be big). But it is hard to get excited about canned demos and promises of computer science breakthroughs. Google’s structured data search might be relatively simplistic but at least it isn’t vaporware. Google actually launched it. Anyone can try it out. When will Wolfram do the same and let people actually play with his vaunted search engine? It is going to take more than a leaked screenshot to convince anyone that Wolfram has something Google doesn’t or can’t build in a year.