I have to admit, I'm excited about Wolfram Alpha. Google and it's host of tools aren't going anywhere and I had a great meeting today discussing the ins and outs of our Google Edu Apps rollout scheduled for this summer. However, I can't help but buy into a bit of the hype around Alpha. As I noted late last night, information is rolling in pretty quickly about this new search engine. As the first of a new breed of semantic search engines (and one, not surprisingly, focused on computation and statistics), Alpha certainly warrants some extra attention from educators.
Perhaps as the hype grows, though, there is no better time than to get information straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak. I started poking around the Wolfram Alpha blog tonight and found quite a bit that was useful, particularly as we start thinking about how this tool can benefit our students and our teaching. Wolfram is also on Twitter, by the way, so follow them for the latest blog updates (among other Tweets).
Today's blog post provides examples of useful Alpha searches. This is, after all different than Google. Even those of us who have achieved Google Nirvana and can search the heck out of the GOOG have some learning to do when it comes to Alpha. Alpha is far more focused and searches a tiny fraction of the pages available to Google, so it's useful to understand its limitations and strengths.
For example, the post today shows screen shots of the example fields in which Alpha has data (one might even say expertise). They range from "Money and Finance" to "Conversions" to "String Processing".
The blog announced the official launch date of May 18th (the day after my anniversary; I'm not sure my wife will consider this a substitute for roses, but if I come up short on a gift, I just might try pitching Alpha as an anniversary present), as well as some fairly detailed explanations of just how Alpha does what it does.
Wolfram Alpha may not be able to live up to all the hype. Before you know it, Oprah and Ashton will probably be using it. However, it looks like it could just live up to some educators' expectations (and even their needs). Oprah and Ashton wouldn't know what to do with Mathematica either, so that's OK.