Wolfram Alpha: A new search resource for journalists

A new search engine – or “computational knowledge engine” – launched this week.

Wolfram Alpha aims to make searching the web for data, answering questions and making comparisons easier.

Its creator, British physicist Stephen Wolfram told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What we’re trying to do is see how much of the world’s knowledge we can make computable.

“Let’s say you want to know how far it is from the Earth to the Sun. You can go look up on a zillion web pages. It’s roughly 93 million miles.

“If you ask Wolfram Alpha that question, it’ll tell you not just roughly how far it is but it will compute how far it is right now when you ask the question.”

Paul Bradshaw takes a look at some of the potential uses for journalists on his Online Journalism Blog.

Useful features include instant comparisons (here’s London, Birmingham and Manchester), instant exchange rates and conversions. It also allows you to find out how much a certain amount of money was worth at a specific point in the past.

BBC technology correspodent Rory Cellan Jones said Wolfram Alpha was still early days and it needed “a lot more work”.

“I think there are a number of problems with this,” he told the Today programme.

“For one thing it’s incredibly American-centric. There’s a lot of American data in it. It does do some things brilliantly, other things not so well.”

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