In recent weeks Google has announced two new services with some similarities to Wolfram Alpha. The first allows visualization of public data, starting with census and labor statistics. The second, Google Squared (due out from Google Labs later this month), processes information from Web pages to create tables of data on a broad range of subjects.
In an interview Friday, Peter Norvig, Google’s research director, said that Google is working on various ways to find and present useful numerical data. He said that he hadn’t seen the Wolfram site in action and would “have to see the reaction” from searchers once it goes live. “Maybe having him out there will push us to release more, faster–I don’t know,” he said.
The launch of Wolfram Alpha was certainly not as disastrous as Cuil’s debut last year, but it was not without glitches. In the initial hours, displays in the data center were not accurately logging how many queries the site was receiving or where they were coming from. For clues, Wolfram Research engineers looked at chat postings accompanying the webcast. (People reported “working in Bloomington,” “not working in Madrid,” and so on.) “We’ve got crowdsourced logging!” Wolfram joked.
The service will require more computing power than is used for typical Web searches, says Samer Diab, chief operating officer of Wolfram Solutions, a unit of Wolfram Research. The company partnered with Dell and R Systems to run the site with two supercomputers and three data centers.
“Wolfram Alpha, by its nature, is going to be a very computationally intensive website,” Diab says. “There is a huge amount of work to put together behind the scenes that will support the volume of calculation that will end up happening.”