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Wolfram Alpha to venture beyond boron nucleus

Looking for a few good data sets

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Stephen Wolfram, the physicist behind the new Wolfram Alpha search engine, says his team is working on cramming more knowledge in the new service across a broader range of topics.

For those not following along, Wolfram Alpha is billed as a "computational knowledge engine" designed to process a technical questions such has how long it takes to travel from San Francisco to London at 5MPH (1 month, 14 days, 8 hours), the phase of the moon on your birthday (a waxing crescent man myself), the number of electrons in boron (5, of course) and perhaps even the occasional internet meme ("How is babby formed?" A stork delivers them).

Wolfram himself explained in a Thursday evening Q&A webcast how he feels the service distinguishes itself from traditional search engines. While your Googles and Yahoos take what's already been published on the web to find relevant results to your query, Wolfram Alpha gathers information and organizes it so it can be computed in ways that might not have been asked before.

But many have already dubbed the service a disappointment in its nearly three weeks of existence because of the rather narrow set of questions relating to math, science, and statistics the engine can handle.

Wolfram says his team at Wolfram Research are now hard at work filling in the early platform with a wider breadth of data. Of the many suggestions he's received on improving the service, he said pointing out new sources of data are probably the most appreciated.

Among the more popular requests, Wolfram says, is adding software product information — such giving the engine the ability to compare versioning data. By Wolfram's own expressed interest in the category, this seems to be a likely addition as the service rolls along.

In terms of areas on knowledge, Wolfram said his team is particularly interested in adding socio-economic data for different countries. Currently, the engine sports a greater range of US-related data than for anywhere else, so international data is in need of being better fleshed out.

Other databases the team is tapping into include real-time flight tracking, real estate, local data, and financial information.

Wolfram said the company also has a premium service in the works, which would include the ability to upload user data for analysis, downloading data to more formats, and giving users longer server-side computational time for more complex number-crunching. ®

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