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back to article Wolfram Alpha API lands with price tag attached

The springtime hype of Wolfram Alpha may have died down to a quiet squeak from academics still somewhat excited by the search-engine-lite-mathematics-heavy web product, but from today developers can tinker with its API. Code junkies can now slot Wolfram Alpha into their own apps. The company confirmed yesterday that it had …

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Underwhelming

If they want to make this a moneymaker, their lowest slot should be free as in "Give us your email address and let us send you promotional mail once in a while, and we'll let you play with our toys". Let anyone tinker with 1000 requests and some of them are going to take off and become enterprise users without any further effort from the company. Charging for low-end access is simply silly.

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FAIL

Ewwww, look at the small print!!

Some classic stuff here:

"Wolfram|Alpha may terminate Your license to use the Wolfram|Alpha Marks at any time for any or no reason."

"You are required to provide a hyperlink to www.WolframAlpha.com on every page with Results. All hyperlinks associated with data provided by Wolfram|Alpha must navigate directly to Wolfram|Alpha."

The prohibitions section is quite some fun too.

-ss

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FAIL

Money?

$60 for an individual / developer license? The only way to generate excitement about these things is to let people play with them for free, even if you have to operate an invite system to start out with.

Once ten thousand excited developers have had a root around in the system, fixed up all of your bugs, and put together a handful of potentially useful / fun apps, that's when people start to notice your API and wonder if they should be paying you shedloads for it.

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Paris Hilton

Whilst the service was free it was overpriced

I tried wolfram alpha when first launched I used every variation of the search string for "average age of onset of schizophrenia", every order, every permutation. I had read the reviews and was sure this was the sort of question the system is designed to answer, after all it was a maths heavy question that should be possible to deduce form published on-line papers... sadly not wolfram alpha would dump me at the sparse root of health. I sent a mail to the appropriate address... still waiting for them to get back to me. Needless to say , shan't be paying anything for an APIi can get my arse or Paris Hilton to replicate.... wind and not much else.

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Paris Hilton

Has anyone found a use for it yet?

I'm not aware of any successful application for the thing yet, but I may be wrong.

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niche

wow. Talk about "not getting it". Good luck to them. I have a feeling they're going to be about as niche as coffee making running shoes.

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WTF?

Better than 'Deep Thought'

Although 'Deep Thought' aka the Earth used 7.5 mill years, Wolfram|Alpha uses only a blink.

Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything = 42

Jokes aside, The only use I see for it is to get some semi random math content onto your site.

If you ever need that.

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WTF?

"Squeaks of excitement from academics"

I'm sorry, but where? I don't know of any academics squeaking with excitement, and speaking as an ersatz academic myself, I'm neither impressed nor squeaking.

Wolfram alpha is a thin and rather brittle NLP (natural lang. proc.) layer around some structured data sources and mathematica tricks. It is not innovative; this sort of approach has been studied before. Nor is it particularly well done -- try MIT's START question answering system ( http://start.csail.mit.edu/ ) for a taste of a well-engineered natural language question-answering system. True, it doesn't graph things for you (or infuriatingly render its text responses as images); but that's hardly a very useful or robust feature of Alpha.

(It's pretty symptomatic of the hybris of Alpha that the thing it does best -- invoke Mathematica and graph the result -- is let down by the interface. It turns out that natural English is not a good way to describe an arbitrary formula, and WA doesn't even start to solve it. Try graphing sin of x squared. Now try graphing the *other* sin of x squared. Etc.)

And for the most part, the conclusion of academia was that this approach -- representing knowledge with logical relations, and mangling English into some sort of relational query -- wasn't the silver bullet it was hoped to be. In fact, it was highly fraught task -- difficult and time consuming to do the "knowledge engineering"; and prone to dissolve under the weight of its own complexities.

Wolfram's claim seems to be that he has done something new, and that it will be revolutionary. Sadly, neither seems to be even defensible, let alone true. Another example of how "industrial research" seems frequently to discover more about engineering hype than engineering computation.

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WTF?

@Morten Bjoernsvik

"The only use I see for it is to get some semi random math content onto your site.

If you ever need that."

Just use Google. Atleast that way you have a good chance of having a result returned. At school the bloody librarian here came in for a lecture and the bloody moron hammed up this hunk of junk like it was the end all cure all. Searched for "Dark Matter" and got jack shit for a result. Wasnt impressed.

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FAIL

They often don't give sources

I spent some time with it exploring UK swine flu infection rates and death rates. The results didn't seem to correspond to such other public data I could find, and I had no way of checking because they don't give proper references. It just said, "Wolfram Alpha, curated data."

This made it useless to me even at the level of informal curiosity, and I imagine useless to academics, too. It may be more accurate than Wikipedia, but if you can't drill down to the sources you can't verify that accuracy so you can't trust it. Calling themselves a "primary source" won't wash.

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Joke

That, or Forum2000.

Brittle NLP is right. Where are my multi-parametric persona SOMADs?

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FAIL

Welcome Wolfram-Alpha

...to a world in which software which costs tens of thousands of dollars is typically available for free as a non-commercial, trial, or learning version.

This lets R&D teams in even the most hidebound company investigate new technologies and prototype new products without having to make a business case and screw some money out of the departmental budget.

It also generates a ready supply of experienced programmers who have gone and taught themselves to use said expensive products, just because programmers are curious little monkeys and like to learn stuff.

Best of luck and hope you enjoy your visit to our planet.

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Headmaster

@They often don't give sources

WTF? No sources?? Noone past A-level anything can use it then. Unless every student in the land just types W. Alpha (2009) as every source for every bit of work. (That would be nice and easy)

Also @Ewwww, look at the small print!!

Terms and conditions can suck my dick, they are becoming/have become ridiculous. We don't all have teams of lawyers to decipher them for us! Therefore they should be burned and declared a stupid invention.

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Interesting ranges for the pricing

So SMBs are up to 750,000 queries a month and enterprises are > 1,000,000 queries a month.

What are you if you run 800,000 queries a month?

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