Category Archives: Wolfram Alpha

New features from Bing and Google

Bing have rolled out more features as part of “Bing Wave 2”. These include:

Integration with Wolfram|Alpha in the diet and fitness category allowing you to work out your BMI and other useful things.

Improved “hover preview” (where you hover your mouse over an icon and see a preview of a website without actually clicking through to the site) which adds customer service phone numbers, search within this site, a Google Site Links style list of deep links, a screenshot of the webpage and for Facebook accounts you’ll see a picture of the account owner, who is in their Facebook network and send them a message or friend request.

Weather / Event results which brings together news, events, xRank results, Twitter feeds, images, Best Match results and content from trusted sites for the Weather / Events results.

Share Search Results on Facebook and Twitter, email to a friend or print results.

The Travel tools have a makeover as well. If you hover over Travel on the homepage you’ll see options to search airfares and hotels. Going into the travel category will bring up an Instant Answers box where you can enter your travel dates, starting point and destination and narrow your search to sites that can match this data. City results now include events listings.

Health has received a makeover to make it more organized.

Of course all these options are on the US version of Bing, looks like the UK users will have to wait.

Google’s new features include:

World Bank public data such as GDP of Indonesia, internet users in the united kingdom and more. This data is available on Google US and UK (and probably worldwide).

Locking Safe Search in Google Images. Stop your young ones from seeing things they shouldn’t by locking Safe Search on which includes a handy graphical clue so you can see from across the room is Safe Search is on. See the video below for more info.

More images Universal search. For example search for digital cameras in and you’ll see a range of images of digital cameras so you can see the variety of makes and models on offer.

“On broader queries, this helps you get a sense of the range of products available to you for the query.”

says the Official Google Blog. This feature is not currently active on Google UK.

Google Music Search. Again not available in the UK but I’m sure we’ll get it soon. It’s probably due to copyright and licensing issues. This feature lets you enter an artist’s name, lyrics or song title into Google and you’ll be able to preview the song from selected media partners of Google.

There’s also a whole host of updates to the Movies search feature, see the Official Google Blog for more information. Again this doesn’t work in the UK.

Google have also updated the keywords tool in the Webmaster control panel.

“We’ll now be updating the data daily, providing details on how often we found a specific keyword, and displaying a handful of URLs that contain a specific keyword. The significance column compares the frequency of a keyword to the frequency of the most popular keyword on your site. When you click on a keyword to view more details, you will get a list of up to 10 URLs which contain that keyword.”

The World Bank data looks to me like Google missed out on a deal with Wolfram|Alpha to Bing so went for the next best thing. Safe Search locking seems like an excellent idea to me and will be very useful in schools and to parents. Personally I can’t wait for Google music search to be available in the UK but I imagine the amount of paperwork and feet-dragging by the major labels may delay this for a long time until they can work out how to make a quick buck from it. The improvements to Bing show they’re finally serious about search but until UK users get similar features then Google will remain number one in the UK.

Wolfram Alpha is live

Following on from last night’s live launch, Wolfram Alpha is now live. I’ve had a quick play and it seems very good at what it does. Wolfram Alpha is mainly a “fact engine” and the usage examples on the home page reinforce this with questions such as “population France/Germany” and prompts to enter dates such as my birthday. Entering a date brings back a lot of facts for that date. In my example it says that I was born on a Monday, exactly how many days have passed between then and now and any notable events such as births, deaths and historical events such as D-Day. It even tells you the phase of the moon on that day! The most impressive part is the ability to download the data as either a PDF or a NB file for Wolfram’s Live Mathematica.

Wolfram Alpha seems to be running at maximum load, probably due to all us search engine geeks hammering their servers! Amusingly if Alpha can’t perform a task it returns “I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that…”, a reference to HAL in 2001:A Space Odyssey of course.

While Alpha is obviously of use to students and academics it remains to be seen whether the general public will embrace it in great numbers.

Impressive: The Wolfram Alpha “Fact Engine”

The well respected Danny Sullivan over at Search Engine Land has published a very in-depth and interesting article about The Wolfram Alpha “Fact Engine” as he’s calling it. As you may know from previous posts, Wolfram Alpha is the brainchild of Stephen Wolfram and uses a collated set of publically available data to provide answers to questions, rather than pointing you to the answers to your question like Google and Ask Jeeves do.

Danny covers the basic functionality of Wolfram Alpha in his article before raising some very interesting points about it’s future such as funding and whether people will actually use it:

“For reasons I’ve never seen fully researched or explained, people simply do not go to specialty search tools in mass numbers. Even at Google, the percentage of people going directly to its image or local search services is appallingly small, which has why it has made such an effort with universal search & blended results.”

Can Wolfram Alpha overcome this? As “unlike Wikipedia, Wolfram Alpha likely won’t get a chance to rank in Google’s own results. There’s no set number of pages that Google can crawl, though it will be interesting to see if some pages start getting listed if people link to specific searches (if someone links to a Wolfram Alpha search request, that might generate a page that Google and other search engines can read).”

Only time will tell, but hopefully we’ll all get to have a play later this month as Wolfram hopes to launch the engine before the end of May.

Technology Review: TR10: Intelligent Software Assistant

I’ve just been alerted by Live Search’s Twitter to this article:
Technology Review: TR10: Intelligent Software Assistant.

Silicon Valley start up company Siri are working on a virtual personal assistant to help users complete tasks rather than simply searching for things.

“Mindful of the sometimes spectacular failure of previous attempts to create a virtual personal assistant, Siri’s founders have set their sights conservatively. The initial version, to be released this year, will be aimed at mobile users and will perform only specific types of functions, such as helping make reservations at restaurants, check flight status, or plan weekend activities. Users can type or speak commands in casual sentences, and the software deciphers their intent from the context. Siri is connected to multiple online services, so a quick interaction with it can accomplish several small tasks that would normally require visits to a number of websites. For example, a user can ask Siri to find a midpriced Chinese restaurant in a specific part of town and make a reservation there.”

Sounds somewhat similar to Wolfram Alpha which we’ve covered before.

Start placing bets now on how long it’ll be before Microsoft buy Siri. If they’re tweeting about it, maybe they’re keeping a close eye on it too?