Microsoft Bing Wields Wolfram Alpha vs. Google in Data Duel

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-11-12

Microsoft Bing Wields Wolfram Alpha vs. Google in Data Duel

News Analysis: Microsoft continues to wheel and deal with its Bing search engine, as it seeks to overtake Google, but the leader with 65 percent market share is not sitting still.

The latest duel is in data computation. Microsoft has it, courtesy of Wolfram Alpha. Google does not, but a company engineer hinted that it is heading there.  

Bing unleashed a flurry of improvements Nov. 11, the most important being a data deal with Wolfram Alpha, a computational search engine. While users enter keywords on Google, Bing and Yahoo and those search engines leverage natural language algorithms to search the Web, Wolfram Alpha is the mother of all calculators.

Users type a mathematical equation into the Wolfram Alpha search bar, and the site spits out the input, the result and the "number name," a spelled-out version.

In a deal for which financial terms were not disclosed, Wolfram Alpha is making its computational algorithms and data available through Bing.

Soon when users go to Bing they will be able to enter mathematical queries and have Bing calculate them through Wolfram Alpha's API. In Microsoft's example, Bing will also be able to help inform users interested in finding data points on nutrition. Bing will be able to tell users whether steak or chicken has more protein, as well as whether oranges have more vitamins than apples or kiwis.

Previously, Bing would have returned search results based on the keywords users entered for those nutritional queries. But by leveraging the Wolfram Alpha algorithms, Bing becomes a computational search engine.  

Google isn't there yet, but it appears to be working on similar technology. Right around the time Bing unveiled its deal with Wolfram Alpha, Google pulled the trigger on a nifty addition to its public data search.

The company added World Bank data to its search repertoire, allowing users to search for and see graphical representations of statistics for specific world data.

For example, users can search for such topics as electricity consumption per capita, or carbon dioxide emissions per capita for certain countries. Users will not only see this info plotted out on a line chart, but will be able to cross reference that data with other countries by checking boxes.

Google Working on Computational Search

But Google isn't computing this data for users; it is merely crawling the Web and using the World Bank's API to access its data indicators. In other words, Google is doing what it's always done: leveraging its superior natural language prowess to speedily retrieve results.

In several tests of these charts, Google Watch found the response time to be sub-second when adding new boxes to the query of how many Internet users there were in specific countries.

During an interview with Google Watch, Ola Rosling, product manager for public data at Google, said Google intends to add more governmental data sources in the future, but declined to specify what public data Google is looking to index within its search engine.

Google Watch also asked him when Google was going to start calculating equations itself, rather than just surfacing the data from other sources. Rosling said:

"That's an interesting question. For now, we're focusing on much more lightweight usage. We're also not computing any numbers ourselves. At this point, we're not targeting that kind of usage. What comes in the future will be disclosed when it's ready, but it's an interesting idea."

Clearly, Google is working on it. Now that Bing is buddies with Wolfram Alpha, it will be interesting to see whether Google stays the course and pursues computational search on its own, or reaches out to Wolfram for its own data deal.

This isn't the first time Microsoft Bing and Google hosted dueling announcements. Microsoft Bing executives unveiled the Bing Twitter site for indexing tweets at the Web 2.0 Summit Oct. 21, only to have Google make its own Twitter deal pledge hours later.

Meanwhile, new stats from HitWise showed Bing made a 7 percent month-over-month gain in U.S. search-engine market share in October from September, notching 9.57 percent of the market. Google and Yahoo saw their shares drop by 1 percent, to 70.60 percent and 16.14 percent, respectively.

Bing's growth, tempered though it may be by Google's seemingly insurmountable share, is impressive when weighed against HitWise's stats from September, when it found Bing's U.S. search fell from 9.49 percent of in August to 8.99 percent.

Bing continues to crawl to double digits. Will Wolfram Alpha and Twitter help it get there?

Rocket Fuel