23 May, 2009

The ultimate showdown Microsoft’s Kumo set to wrestle with Google


HEDIRMAN SUPIAN, hedirman@mediacorp.com.sg

090522-WolframAlpha THERE has been plenty of buzz online about Wolfram Alpha (www.wolframalpha.com), a unique online tool that tech pundits say could beat Google Search at its own game.

Unlike conventional search engines, Wolfram Alpha does not generate links to information from across the web to answer your search query. Instead, it tries to understand what you’ve asked and presents factual data from a database of curated content (currently only 10TB in size). Thanks to its algorithmic-rich backbone, Wolfram Alpha can present its results in tables, charts, diagrams and other visual means as an answer to your query. And there’s no guesswork needed to ascertain the data since it comes from valid sources.

Here’s what we found when we compared the results generated by Wolfram Alpha with other search engines.

Search: GDP of Singapore

>> Wolfram Alpha: In its results, Wolfram Alpha presented the 2007 estimate of our GDP (gross domestic product) and charted a useful graph of our country’s GDP growth overtime. It also displayed relevant information, like the country’s inflation and employment rates.

>> Google Search (www.google.com.sg): The first link on Google’s search results was a sponsored link by a bank — hardly useful. Next in line was a link to the website for the United State’s Central Intelligence Agency, which has Singapore’s 2007 GDP figures.

Search: Earthquakes in Indonesia

>> Wolfram Alpha: It displayed a graphic map littered with dots pinpointing the areas in Indonesia that are affected by earthquakes. The dots vary in sizes to illustrate the magnitude of the earthquake. With the aid of simple drop-down menus, you can filter the earthquakes by magnitude and by the period of time they occurred.

>> Yahoo (sg.search.yahoo.com): Related links to news stories from different media outlets formed the mainstay of Yahoo’s search results.

Search: Big Mac

>> Wolfram Alpha: It’s not localised yet, so Wolfram Alpha won’t recognise food items like rojak or nasi lemak. In fact, for a little surprise, see its response when you query this: “Do you speak Malay?” So, we fed McDonald’s almost universal Big Mac into Wolfram Alpha and were treated to a detailed list of the fast food’s nutritional values.

>> Microsoft Live Search (search.live.com): Two Wikipedia entries on the Big Mac made the top of the list on the search engine’s results, with the link to the official UK website for McDonald’s appearing at number three on the result list.

Search: Singapore weather in May

>> Wolfram Alpha: Not only did Wolfram Alpha state the average temperature and range of conditions, humidity and wind speed, it also provided charts indicating cloud cover and temperature.

>> rednano.sg (www.rednano.sg): The local search engine churned out a list of largely irrelevant results. Under its web results tab, it displayed a link to news stories on Indonesia and China, followed by a blog listing “wild happenings in singapore” while under its news results page, it listed links to technology-related sites. Huh?

Wolfram Alpha won’t quite render search engines obsolete. Its strength lies in providing you ways to crunch factual data and manipulate it to your liking. Because it lacks information on pop culture or news, users who try to use it like a conventional search engine might be disappointed.

This “computational knowledge engine” can be daunting because it isn’t very flexible with processing certain phrases or queries. We sometimes had to rearrange our queries to get the right results.

However, Wolfram Alpha holds much potential and is a step in the right direction for a web tool that serves as an encyclopedia on steroids.

Microsoft might be unveiling a new search engine next week. According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Microsoft plans to demonstrate the search engine, code-named Kumo, at D: All Things Digital, a conference organised by the WSJ. Said to be a revamp of Microsoft’s Live Search, Kumo aims to provide a better web search experience by shortening and grouping search results into relevant categories.

From TODAYOnline.com, Tech – Friday, 22-May-2009; see the source article here.

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