Apropos to my post yesterday, Technology Review has a short comparison of Wolfram Alpha and Google. Here are a few samples:
Here’s what I entered, and what I found.
SEARCH TERM: Microsoft Apple
WOLFRAM ALPHA: I got side-by-side tables and graphics on the stock prices and data on the two companies, plus a chart plotting the price of both stocks over time.
GOOGLE: The top hits were mostly news stories, from major and minor publications, containing both words.
SEARCH TERM: Sydney New York
WOLFRAM ALPHA: I got tables showing the distance between the two cities in miles, kilometers, meters, even nautical miles; a map of the world with the optimal flight path; and the fact that the trip spans 0.4 of the earth’s circumference. I learned how long it would take to make the trip: 18.1 hours flying; 13 hours for a sound wave, 74 milliseconds for a light beam in fiber, and 53 milliseconds for a light beam traveling in a vacuum. I also got comparative populations, elevation in meters, and current local times.
GOOGLE: I got a mix of things: a form for finding flights between Sydney and New York; a Google Maps-plotted list of businesses in New York City that contain the word “Sydney”; and links to the municipal government of Sidney, a small town in upstate New York.
SEARCH TERM: Aspirin Tylenol
WOLFRAM ALPHA: Alpha gave me molecular diagrams for aspirin and acetaminophen and lots of scientific information comparing their molecular weights, boiling points, vapor pressure, and so forth.
GOOGLE: Usefully (to nonchemists suffering from headaches), the top link was to a Wiki-answers page telling people whether they can take aspirin and Tylenol together. Other links gave information about toxicity, danger to kidneys, and the like.
It is fairly clear to me that both engines are returning useful information. It does not appear to be a question of one engine being better than the other. Rather, by using both engines, it appears that the user should be able to increase both the diversity and coverage of information required. So I again ask: Do you rotate your search engine usage?