Posted May 8, 2009 7:39 am by with 8 comments

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ZDNet’s Larry Digman suspects Google’s Sergey Brin is looking over his shoulder at the start-up Wolfram Alpha.

Picking through Brin’s annual “Founders’ Letter” Digman found this interesting little aside:

I think it will soon be possible to have a search engine that “understands” more of the queries and documents than we do today. Others claim to have accomplished this, and Google’s systems have more smarts behind the curtains than may be apparent from the outside, but the field as a whole is still shy of where I would have expected it to be.

I tend to agree that this is a reference to Wolfram Alpha, but I don’t think it suggests Google is concerned about the start-up’s claims. On the contrary, it appears this one statement sends a number of strong messages:

  1. Google has technology “behind the curtains” that it’s not yet ready to reveal, but likely more powerful than being touted by Wolfram Alpha.
  2. Where Brin says “the field as a whole is still shy of where I would have expected it to be” you can translate that as him not being impressed by Wolfram Alpha’s offering.
  3. “It will soon be possible” that we’ll have “a search engine” that understands our search queries better. He’s not talking about a different search engine folks, he’s talking about Google.

History is littered with the rotten carcasses of search engines that have failed to challenge Google–both archaic dinosaurs such as Alta Vista, and young whippersnappers such as Cuil.

Does anyone really think that Wolfram Alpha has what it takes to take on Google?

  • Everyone is looking after Wolfram alpha as a rival to Google which is dismissed by other famous bloggers n techies saying that they are infact not rivals to Google but, trying to bring in a unique search engine which is different from Google. However what level of competition its going to give to Google looks like a bizarre for now.

    But I’m quite impressed with the way it is delivering the results from its search.

    krishna’s last blog post..Google India SearchMasters 2009 Conference at Bangalore

  • I think I’ll wait until we can actually see Wolfram Alpha before I decide whether it can take on Google. Until everybody can get into it and actually start searching, it is all just PR.

    WebbyThoughts’s last blog post..Keyword Research and making money with AdSense

  • Wolfram Alpha is not a search engine. At least not in the sense of Google, Yahoo, Dogpile, Ask Jeeves, etc. They all focus on giving you a list of websites that match your query as closely as possible. WA is closer to Wikipedia, except with some intelligence to pull together related articles and take out the cruft. It’s never going to compete with Google because it doesn’t do what Google does.

    But as a side note, saying that history is strewn with carcases of search engines who failed to beat Google does not translate to one will never come along that isn’t better than Google. Every monopoly topples eventually and I have no doubt that Google’s time will come eventually.

  • @Mark – I think Brin is hinting that Google will expand beyond being just a “search engine” and hence be a rival to Wolfram’s offering. I agree that Google is not invincible, but it’s going to be a long, tough road for any company looking to topple it.

  • Brin isn’t worried because, no matter how good Wolfram Alpha is, no one will be able to remember the name . . . it is time for them to rebrand and fast!

    Joshua Dorkin’s last blog post..Older Americans Month And Scams (Loan Mods, specifically)

  • Agree with Joshua.

  • I’ve heard similar statements from Google for many months, so while I agree this could be aimed at Wolfram Alpha, I also think it’s aimed at semantic search companies such as Hakia and Microsoft-acquired PowerSet.


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