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Market watch: Entering “GM Ford” into the Wolfram Alpha engine produced tables comparing company data and stock prices, including charts plotting the price history.

VARIATIONS: Adding the word “in” changed everything. When I tweaked the search query to say “10 pounds in kilograms,” the Wolfram site gave me the correct conversion: 10 pounds equals 4.536 kilograms. It also gave me the volumes (in various units) of 10 pounds of water. In a final, somewhat cheesy touch, it also told me that 10 pounds was 1.8 times the weight of Wolfram’s book, A New Kind of Science. In Google’s case, this revised search term produced the helpful calculated result up top: 10 pounds = 4.5359237 kilograms.

When I put in “10 lbs kgs,” Alpha gave me the calculated result (the assumption was that I wanted multiplication), as it had with the full words. Google gave me metric conversion sites–the top one was a “Russian Brides Cyber Guide.” (It offers both brides and metric conversions.)

When I tried “10 pds kgs,” Alpha choked and didn’t understand. Google helpfully asked if I meant “pounds” and gave me metric conversion sites, but not the calculated result.

SEARCH TERM: light bulb

WOLFRAM ALPHA: I was expecting some facts and figures on this ubiquitous technology but got a message saying that Wolfram Alpha “isn’t sure what to do with your input.”

GOOGLE: I got several links–starting with a Wikipedia entry–explaining what a light bulb is and providing some history.

VARIATIONS: When I tried “light bulb inventor,” I got similar results: Alpha drew a blank, but Google gave useful links. When I tried “first light bulb,” Alpha provided a table explaining that the light bulb was patented in 1878; under “people involved,” it cited Thomas Edison.

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.

SEARCH TERM: Stanford Harvard

WOLFRAM ALPHA: I got tables comparing data from the two schools: size of student bodies–broken down by full-time, part-time, undergraduate, and graduate–plus the number of undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral degrees awarded, and similar data. Alpha listed Stanford’s tuition as $25,000, which is incorrect, and no tuition for Harvard. As with all of Alpha’s results, it gave me sources against which to check the information.

GOOGLE: Google gave me a collection of links (starting with a discussion board for students trying to make a college decision) and various news stories containing the two terms.

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Credits: Wolfram Research

Tagged: Communications, Web, Google, search, search engine, Wolfram Alpha, search engine optimization, computational infrastructure

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