Wolfram Alpha isn't the "Google killer" that many hyped it up to be prior to its 2009 launch. Instead, the self-described computational knowledge engine takes a completely different approach to letting users find and analyze information. Rather than scouring the Web and ranking everybody's pages in the order it thinks we'd find them useful, it uses its own data sets and computational power to return detailed reports and analysis about whatever topics users query it for.
Tomorrow, the service will ramp things up a notch when its "pro" version launches. For $5 per month, Wolfram Alpha Pro will allow users to do way more with its data, as well as enable them to upload their own. The premium offering will be discounted for students and enterprise users.
This is freemium done right. What Wolfram Alpha is bolting onto its core offering is powerful and useful enough to justify what is undeniably a very reasonable price tag. For more users, what Wolfram Alpha's standard version does will continue to be enough for educational and other research purposes. For those with more specialized or comprehensive data needs, paying $5 will be well worth it.
The value offered by Wolfram Alpha Pro is two-fold, and it sits at both ends of the query process. First, users can upload their own data sets and have the service crunch through it for them, try to understand it and built out reports and graphs that previously could have taken them hours in Excel or elsewhere. In addition to text, you can even input images and get a detailed report about their visual characteristics.
Second, once a report is built - be it from Wolfram's data or your own - you can export the end results, images and all. This allows you to take the data analysis one step further using whatever other tools you want, effectively open-sourcing Wolfram Alpha's results. You can also turn charts and graphs into interactive versions of themselves. The Verge put together a detailed, hands-on overview of Wolfram Alpha Pro that is well worth checking out.
The potential these features have for people like journalists, business owners and Web analytics professionals is enormous. Just plug in a spreadsheet or other data set and let the knowledge engine work its computational magic. So much of the heavy lifting is shifted over to Wolfram Alpha's servers, freeing up the individual to spend time understanding the information, more easily spotting important trends and deciding if any further analysis is needed.
The premium plan is the latest part of the company's monetization strategy, which to date has included paid mobile apps, licensing of its API to third parties and various enterprise services.