The Problem for Wolfram Alpha

The problem for WolframAlpha is not that people don’t see it as a serious research tool; the problem is that they take it too seriously.

If Twitter is any measure of consensus, most are intrigued, but feel that it didn’t live up to the buzz. I don’t know if Wolfram was driving the marketing or if it was our own runaway desire for something magical, but my sense is that people are disappointed. This, says Chris Brogan, is lacklustre:

And when you enter “woman” you get different sorts of data then when you enter “man”, which suggests it structuring od data is not quite worked out yet. On the other hand, you can do this sort of thing reliably:

Clearly, there’s work for Wolfram to do yet. It’s not a Google killer, but I don’t think it was ever intended to be. On the other hand, Google’s GoogleSquared is not a Wolfram killer either. But that disucssion is beside the point here.

The really neat thing about WolframAlpha, at least from a K12 point of view, it that is is a wonderful tool for playing with data.

For example, kids can calculate the nutritional value of their lunch:

And this is downright fun and, I think, rather more instructional than straight up data because it employs higher order thinking (if we take simple searching as locating then this kind of search would be comparing–3 steps up on Bloom’s taxonomy):

The typical elementary school country comparison projects are a snap to create; and I’m all in favour of a tool that lets’ me get the data I need quickly so I can move my students on to higher order thinking, e.g. analysis. I get this when I search “Canada Ghana” to compare our country with that of our school’s penpals:

WolframAlpha is not yet perfected, but it’s as good as perfect as a data sandbox for grade school kids. It gets at idea of a “play tank”–as opposed to a “think tank”–that Margaret Wertheim talks about near the end of this TED video on the beautiful math of coral and crochet:


  1. Reply August 22, 2009

    Great site !

  2. Reply
    Brad Ovenell-Carter August 22, 2009


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