The Learning 2.0 School

Shifting Perceptions of Teaching and Learning in and out of the School Library

Next Generation Search Engine, Wolfram|Alpha, Unveiled

Posted by Michelle Torrise on May 17, 2009


Have you seen Wolfram|Alpha, the groundbreaking, next generation search engine?  It is becoming somewhat of a phenomenon.   If you asked Wolfram|Alpha developer, Stephen Wolfram, however,  he would say it’s not a search engine at all, but rather it is a “computational knowledge engine.”

The basic premise is that Wolfram|Alpha is supported by an incredibly large collection of data that is drawn from to answer user queries, think online encyclopedia.    And, it is incredibly precise in doing so.  For example, if you ask the nutritional value of 10 peanut M&Ms, you’ll get more information than you might expect.

>>Don’t miss Stephen Wolfram’s  Screencast.

It’s interesting because students are often discouraged from using sites like and when doing research for school projects, mainly because they don’t require the student to develop a research strategy.  Yet, as search engines and data access become more and more sophisticated, this policy may need to be reevaluated.  To the point, developers of Wolfram|Alpha have categorized the site as a primary source and have very specific guidelines for citing it, as follows:

>>Excerpts from Frequently Asked Questions > Education & Research

Should I cite Wolfram|Alpha when I use results from it?
Yes. For academic purposes, Wolfram|Alpha is a primary source.

How should I cite results from Wolfram|Alpha?
The citable author is Wolfram|Alpha. Don’t forget to include the time and/or place at which the query was made, as it can affect the result. You can reference results in individual pods by giving their names.

How can I find out what to cite when I use data from Wolfram|Alpha?
Wolfram|Alpha should be considered the source, just as an encyclopedia or other reference would be. If you include the Wolfram|Alpha URL in your document, your readers can go to the “Source information” button to get further references. Note that Wolfram|Alpha often combines and adapts data from multiple sources.


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