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Thursday, 4th March 2010

Dr. Peter Jacso Reviews Wolfram Alpha in His Final Gale.com Review

We're sorry to see Peter Jacso, reference reviewer supreme, Professor, and Chair of the Library and Information Science Program at the University of Hawaii and Manoa, end his column for Gale.com with this month's review.

We've learned A LOT from Dr. Jacso and his reviews (he's done more than 220 during the past 10 years) and sincerely appreciate the many kind words he's given to ResourceShelf over the years.

His final review is an in-depth look (to put it mildly) of WolframAlpha.

From the Review:

This unique "computational knowledge engine", the brainchild of one of the most talented contemporary mathematicians, Stephen Wolfram, is said to be based on more than 10 trillion data (which number is comparable to the number of people who ever lived, and more than three times the number of stars in our galaxy. I would have not known this, but I quickly learned it by looking up the term trillion in Wolfram|Alpha.

If this were not enough, it can serve much more data than that because it also calculates new data from many of the raw data that appeared in economic time series, factbooks, yearbooks, encyclopedias, almanacs, directories and a large variety of statistical compendia. It is meant for questions that can be answered mostly through numbers. It has great potential to become a widely used important resource for situations when numeric data is needed rather than deep thoughts and verbalization, but it is not there yet, it is not a finished work that would only need updates with fresh, current data.


There is a reason that the author (or I might as well say composer), calls it a computational knowledge engine. He wants to set it apart from the dozens of search engines. Still, many reviewers compared it to Google, which is like comparing apples and oranges. Google and the other search engines are actually pointers, sending you to Web sites, whereas Wolfram|Alpha is a direct ready-reference source itself.


Wolfram|Alpha is a very interesting ready reference source, and there is no beggary in the answers that can be reckon'd. On the contrary, there is revelry in the answers if the key facts can be summed up compactly.

That's why good quality abstracts have been appreciated, and why senseless ones are depreciated as those produced by Google Scholar in 307,000 records with the same "abstract" pondering "why this message is appearing", and 500,000 "abstracts" assuring the user that "the visual presentation will be degraded" both because of your browser.

Don't worry, it is not your browser's problem. The problem is with Google Scholar's crawlers that triggered these error messages and then gathered them as "abstracts" from the web sites of the most respected scholarly journals. Their publishers gave the key to their entire digital archives, and the precious metadata to Google Scholar's developers. If you go to the publishers' site you will find the real metadata, including the real abstracts for free.

Source: Gale.com


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