It’s coming up to a year since I interviewed someone over at Hakia.com, a semantic, natural language based search engine. Now it seems another contender to the throne is making considerable noise in Britain where London-born scientist Stephen Wolfram believes he has set the foundation for a more intelligent search engine coined Wolfram|Alpha.
Wolfram aims to unveil the new search engine to the public in two months’ time, and has so far tantalised us with claims “that with a mixture of many clever algorithms and heuristics, lots of linguistic discovery and linguistic curation, and what probably amount to some serious theoretical breakthroughs, we’re actually managing to make [Wolfram|Alpha] work.”
If I appear sceptical it’s because I am. Cuil overinflated its pre-launch hype with claims of brilliance and revolution only to underwhelm us with a tepid and inadequate algorithm. Hakia certainly has the scientific credibility to promise utter turmoil to the SEO profession, but until now has rested on its laurels of academia. Will Wolfram|Alpha be any different?
So how does Wolfram|Alpha intend to surpass current search engines in terms of relevance? Or does the team believe it can offer something completely different and innovative?
Wolfram|Alpha is designed on the principle that current search engines rely too heavily on their vast databases of indexed pages; they simply make a best guess based on search criteria and serve up some (hopefully) relevant results.
By working with a search engine that understands natural language instead, Stephen Wolfram intends to closely understand people’s questions and answer them directly. He remarks that, “It provides extremely impressive and thorough questions asked in many different ways, and it computes answers—it doesn’t merely look them up in a big database.”
An important thing to consider is that it’s extremely unlikely that Google themselves haven’t been hacking together, for many years, a semantic algorithm with an understanding of linguistics and intent. I wish Stephen the very best of luck with Wolfram|Alpha but experience has taught the search industry not to hold its breath for search innovation. I sincerely hope he proves us wrong.
David Lindop is a professional search specialist working on SEO, linkbait & social media marketing at Setfire Media