Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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Fiddling with Wolfram Alpha

May 16th, 2009 by Seb Chan

Well, Wolfram Alpha is another nail in the coffin of the value of ‘raw data’ on the internet. And another reason why museums (and everyone else) need to emphasise interpretation, value add, and the ‘experience’ (Max Anderson’s ‘the visceral’). The raw materials will increasingly be free, easy to find, and ready for recombination and building upon. (Another reason why if you are not seriously cataloguing, documenting and digitising you are going to become invisible)

I’m impressed with my initial fiddling around.

Once upon a time you would have found it best to visit the Sydney Observatory to find out where Beta Centauri is in the sky. They would have given you a sky chart – which you can now download monthly from our site with accompanying podcast, or buy the annual Sky Guide book.

Of course, you’ll still find the Observatory a great place for a nerdy date or to get a go on the big telescope, and savour the experience of the historic building and unique location.

Now for the sky and factual data I can just go to Wolfram Alpha and do this search. Notice it has given the result relative to my geographical position and the time in my location. Equally impressive is the ability to see the sources used to generate the information (critical in establishing trust), and the ability to download the result as a PDF.

Now go and try it with people, places and things . . . .

You’ve probably noticed Google has also done some nifty new enhancements to their search.

Here’s the Wonder Wheel

And the Timeline

Tags:   2 Comments

  • Can you explain your first paragraph? You seem to be saying a bunch of things that contradict each other: raw data has no value, data owners need to provide interpretation, google and wolfram both provide views into raw data. IMO these new things only further underscore the inherent value of quality, vouched-for raw data.

  • Seb Chan

    Hi Michal

    Yes that wasn’t very clear was it! Blogging as procrastination is not so good!

    What I mean is that the raw data/information on its own is no longer as valuable as it once was (when access was scarce). Holding on to it makes less and less sense – especially if it is readily available elsewhere. Google and Wolfram (and others) provide quicker, better access now. (Better, quicker than we will ever be able to do).

    Of course, we need to keep providing this raw data for third parties to deliver (faster, better, more connected), but our main focus needs to shift to enhancing the data, contextualising it, devising new ways of ‘understanding’ and ‘experiencing’ it.