Computational engine Wolfram Alpha's Managing Director, Barak Berkovitz, talked about the data layer of the mobile Web at a session this afternoon at the Open Mobile Summit in San Francisco.
Like geo-data has done for location, Wolfram Alpha adds a new layer to the Web: a factual dimension. This will impact the Web's evolution, says Berkovitz.
"Opinions are nice," says Berkovitz, "but facts matter." He didn't intend any insult towards opinions when saying that, he explained. Sometimes opinions are helpful, such as in restaurant reviews, or ratings. But facts are powerful - they change the world.
There are few changes in our society that have not been driven by facts. They've shaped our understanding of the world itself, our universe, everything.
But today's Web doesn't trade in facts. The problem is that it's still difficult to actually "get" facts - access is still limited, even with Google. The reality is that the Web is filled with opinions, ideas and other wonderful things, but true facts are hard to find via search engines.
There's also a core problem on the Web: people lie. They're lazy, they're fallible and they're not innately accurate or unbiased.
Stephen Wolfram, the founder of Wolfram Alpha, the fact engine, has been trying to solve this problem, Berkovitz explained. Wolfram Alpha isn't a "search engine," at least not in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, it provides facts and it lets you calculate across facts. For example, you can ask it: "what was the weather like the day George Bush was born?" or "what's the GDP in Japan compared with the GDP in China?"
But these examples are only the beginning, says Berkovitz. Wolfram Alpha is still an "alpha," meaning a service in the very early stages of development. The end goal is put Wolfram Alpha everywhere through the use of APIs (application programming interfaces). This will extend the facts Wolfram Alpha provides all across the Web and across all kinds of Web-connected devices.
You can already see the possibilities of how the API works by looking at its integration in Bing, the alternative search engine from Microsoft. Bing users can now get quick answers to fact-based questions, infusing facts into search. Web-based widgets bring facts to people's websites, mobile apps bring facts to the mobile Web and Web-enabled eBooks can be automatically updated with Wolfram Alpha's factual content.
Combined, all this content enables a fact-based data layer to the Web.
In the near future, Wolfram Alpha will announce new pricing for commercial widgets and APIs, says Berkovitz. This will help the fact-based Web expand to more places and platforms.