The Kaptain on … stuff

17 May, 2009

WolframAlpha – Free for personal use but how much to subscribe?

Posted by: TheKaptain In: Cool Toys|Development

And even more important perhaps, the “developer APIs” they’re hinting at. There seems to be a lot of talk about this being the next ‘Google-killer’, but that really doesn’t seem to be the point of this service. My personal interpretation of the new Wolfram|Alpha service – this is the Mathematica guys showing off, and I really can’t blame them. “10+ trillion of pieces of data, 50,000+ types of algorithms and models, and linguistic capabilities for 1000+ domains.” Ok, you can stop – you had me at “10+ trillion pieces of data”. Count me geekily intrigued.

For a little background, this is the same company that first released Mathematica almost 21 years ago. They’ve had a very long time to refine and expand their repertoire as well. Mathematica, with its somewhat weird and wonderful syntax, is in general a powerful language and platform for computation and visualization. Or so the PR materials claim. They also boast that it is “The world’s most productive programming language.” We’ll just wait and see, now won’t we – and potentially have a Groovy showdown to answer that question.
So what are the Mathematica guys doing now?

They’re Giving It Away!

Yup. Free, as in beer. The comprehensive knowledge-base and set of algorithms developed in Mathematica are backing the Wolfram|Alpha site(WA from here on in cause it’s too much to type, tyvm), providing some great visualizations and, at least so far, some pretty good interpretations for natural language queries.  While hit and miss for some things that WA doesn’t know about(yet), what it does know it shows off pretty well. Locations resolve to census and geographical data, and what good mashup would be complete without Google Maps integration.  It can give you a comprehensive weather report, for now or for a decade in the past.  The part that caught my attention was the easy access to genomic data. I was delighted today to find that they have a fairly comprehensive library of “Life Sciences” data, algorithms and examples available. If you enter a genome sequence such as AAGCTAGCTAGC you get chromosomal matches. Information on proteins, SNPs and other biological tidbits is also readily available.

There are a couple of catches here, of course.  No robots allowed, although how they will enforce this I do not know. If you use the content somewhere else, give appropriate credit – citing sources is hardly painful for good info. No reverse-engineering, etc to try and steal their product or algorithms. And no commerical use allowed, which stands to reason coming from a company whose flagship product appears to start with a $295 home edition pricetag. That last one leads me around to the topic of this post.

How much to subscribe?

They’re not being at all coy about their intent to monetize WA. I couldn’t find a pricetag anywhere, but you can bet that their subscription link has been clicked a few times today. With promises for API’s, the potential for companies to purchase/rent their own private WA servers, and delivering the content through a browser powered by a single text input – these are some pretty compelling selling points, at least IMO. It’ll be interesting to see where the bottom line is for this potentially powerful service. In the meantime, they’ve done a fantastic job of getting the world at large to load test their software for free. And if they ever put out a free developer version, you’ll be seeing a future post. In the meantime, I’ll be looking for some indication of how much it’s going to cost. If the price matches the hype, it won’t be cheap, unfortunatley.

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