Wikipedia defines Web 3.0 as the “semantic web”, “making it possible for the web to understand and satisfy the requests of people and machines to use the web content.” We’ll get a step closer to that vision when Wolfram|Alpha (or maybe just “WolframAlpha” – their web site uses both) launches later today.
Wolfram|Alpha is a product from Wolfram Research (famous for its beautiful Mathematica software) that has been generating a lot of buzz. It’s a “computational knowledge engine” that gathers information from databases on the web and makes it available through a streamlined and elegant interface. You can type in a question and Wolfram Alpha will interpret it and return information relevant for a particular context. For example, if you ask for “MSFT vs SAP” it will give you financial comparisons, if you ask for “2 cups OJ” it will give you nutritional information, and if you ask “what is the gdp of france / italy”, it show you a chart of that ratio over time (see diagram below).
The basic premise reminds me of the early “natural language query” pioneers of fifteen years ago, Business Objects’ own ill-fated “intelligent query” prototype a few years ago, or Semantra or EasyAsk today, and as I mentioned in an earlier post, Google has started linking searches to charts. But Wolfram Alpha is offering a much more intuitive and flexible interface (based on the screencam, at least).
As Nigel James points out in his post “The alpha computer. A new kind of science”, it’s interesting to speculate about how existing technology will interact with products like Wolfram Alpha in the future, as both inputs and outputs:
“We have heard SAP executives recently talking about how 50 percent of all the worlds financial transactions end up in an SAP system. What value could that offer as an input to a ‘Computational Knowledge Engine?’"
And of course you can use the results as a starting point for further analysis. A big part of the goal of BI is to “help you answer questions you didn’t know you had”. You want direct answers to some questions, but people will still want to be shown what correlated data exists, and be able to browse through it intuitively (the new SAP BusinessObjects Explorer product excels at this).
If you’re in an appropriate time zone (2 am Saturday morning for me, so I’m not going to make it), you can connect and watch the live WolframAlpha launch broadcast
Finally, as a lapsed Brit (I left 20+ years ago), I have to say I love the bald heads, English accents and the low-key delivery (while still being very effective hype) – a welcome change from all those US-car-commercial-voiceovers!