March 13, 2009
In the past few weeks speculation has run rampant on the future of search and whether Google might be supplanted by Twitter real-time social search or by Wolfram Alpha, the still to be launched search engine that is billed as a true computational knowledge engine.
Wolfram Alpha (http://www.wolframalpha.com/) is scheduled to launch in May and could very well be a major advance in search technology. In brief, ask Wolfram Alpha a question and it supposedly will deliver a specific and accurate response as opposed to a list of related results. Stephen Wolfram outlines Wolfram Alpha’s technological foundation in his blog post at: http://blog.wolfram.com/2009/03/05/wolframalpha-is-coming/ .
Will Wolfram Alpha supplant Google? Not in the short term. Google has become a synonym for search, like Xerox became for copying. But Wolfram Alpha and the search technologies that follow could very well begin to undermine Google’s dominance. Wolfram appears to be a largely scientific endeavor, but with the proper funding, promotion and innovation, it could rapidly find an audience. Search has always been about finding answers. A hundred million search results to a query are impressive, but one specific, accurate and correct result is really all that’s needed for many queries. It might be simpler for Wolfram Alpha to backfill their accurate answer results with related search results than for Google to duplicate Wolfram’s “millions of lines of algorithms”. Then again, success in the marketplace is not always about what’s “best”. Assuming Wolfram does what it claims it can and takes a competitive stance, the search industry could dramatically change in 5 years.
Then, there’s Twitter. Does anyone seriously believe that Twitter search could be a Google killer? Indexing the micro-blogging sphere is not exactly a major technological feat for a search giant like Google. If Google search results can be supplemented with Twitter results using a GreaseMonkey script, how difficult would it be for Google to supplement their own search results with real-time social search results. Then there’s the question of exactly how useful Twitter results are. Mini blog posts are interesting but hardly a resevoir of accuracy and reliability. Tweets have their place – good for rapid communication, breaking news, marketing blurbs, networking, tips, etc. – but they are unlikely to ever be the basis for search results that put Google out of business.