Wolfram Alpha calls itself a “computational knowledge engine” and was spun out of “Mathematica,” a mathematically intensive formula and graphing calculator on steroids.
Although amazingly powerful, Wolfram Alpha is not widely known, though you may already be using it. Its one of the data engines behind Siri – and one of the few Siri systems you can actually count on. It responds on Siri’s behalf for computationally based queries. For example, when you ask Siri “How many inches in 10 meters” she replies with:
Notice the logo beneath the answer.
You can access Wolfram Alpha directly on the web and get some surprisingly robust answers from it. Just for kicks, while showing Wolfram Alpha to a friend (completely unrehearsed), I asked it, “How many cars are on the road?” ( Purposefully leaving it a bit vague.) Surprisingly, this is what it responded with:
It helps that Wolfram Alpha is scoped. It focuses on statistical and computational questions. Therefore, it doesn’t search the web for trends and rankings since it’s primarily driven by data and math. So, to get the most out of it I suggest focusing your questions on ones that possess those qualities. It can be, for example, a good place to gather preliminary data for your research. Like this one, “number of families in the united states with an average income above $100,000 per year.”
To be honest, it’s been years since I last played with it; it’s kind of one of those products that its usefulness ebbs and flows. Recently, however, while researching a “social product” idea, I stumbled upon this nifty feature advertising a Facebook Report from Wolfram and decided to give it a go.
Wolfram Alphas Facebook Report
Not only was the data of the report interesting but the speed at which it gathered, computed and graphed it all was a bit stunning. It’s able to give you just about everything about you on Facebook.
You can view charts of your post history over time, as a ratio between posting images vs. text, most active times of day by media types or a word-cloud of your most often used vocabulary. You can find out what post garnered you the most likes or comments, who’s commented on your posts the most and how often you use the FB app.
This little graph shows me the ratio of female friends I have to male ones and what their relationships status’ are – broken down into a pie chart. You can see the average age of my friends and where in the world my friends live.
This graph I don’t really even understand, but it looks hella informative!
All in all Wolfram Alpha is a fun product to play with and may even help you get some of your research started and difficult questions answered quickly.
Here are some other fun questions to ask it:
How far is Saturn (Remember, distances are not static)