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By James Bach
Take a look at the screen shot, below. This is from my first five minutes of playing with Wolfram/Alpha. Do you see what’s wrong with it? I’ll tell you in a minute…
Wolfram/Alpha is the new search engine that isn’t so much a search engine as a find-interesting-ways-to-analyze-data-and-show-it-to-me engine. It’s a closed system, as far as I can tell. It does some cool things. But I don’t understand how they will keep up with the data quality problem.
This worries me because the output from Wolfram/Alpha looks authoritative. I want to be able to trust it. But look at this slightly disturbing problem. I searched for Francis Bacon, but instead of getting a page about the various Francis Bacons of history and having an opportunity to disambiguate, I got the output, below. As you see, it combines information from two different men: Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St. Alban and Lord Chancellor of England under Elizabeth I, and Francis Bacon, the painter. Furthermore, there appears to be no way to focus the search. Adding search terms that should distinguish between the two men appears to do nothing.
This tells me that there isn’t a lot of data in the system, yet, and that the data that is there may be mangled in ways that I may not notice unless I already know the thing I asked to learn about.
At least with Google and Wikipedia, it’s a relatively open system where I get a variety of results. So, beware, folks.
That said, I’m going back to playing with Wolfram/Alpha some more… Because it’s cool.


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