Finding Answers vs. Searching for Links

In this article

  • An overview and background of the browser and app “answer engine” Wolfram Alpha
  • How it differs from (and doesn’t compete with) traditional internet search engines
  • Some examples of how small businesses can use it for research
  • How a small business can add Wolfram Alpha widgets to a website or blog
  • Two short introductory videos in which Wolfram Alpha is explained


Wolfram Alpha may look like an internet search engine, but if you type in a search query, you’ll be taken to something very different-looking from a Google search results page. Instead of finding a list of links to websites and PDFs, you’ll discover a page gridded into boxes (or “pods”) of information and digital tools related to your search. Wolfram Alpha’s creators call their service an “answer engine.” While it is no threat to Google for search engine dominance (nor does it seek to be), for certain types of information, Wolfram Alpha is magic. Students and professionals in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) already depend on Wolfram Alpha and its app the way earlier generations used calculators, slide rules and abaci and rocks (and whatever came before those).  Since its release in 2009, Wolfram Alpha has continuously broadened its focus to include all types of functions that range from serious business research to sports-data tracking.



Wolfram Alpha was created by Wolfram Research, the company started in 1987 by Stephen Wolfram, the legendary computer scientist and mathmetician. (How legendary? He received the MacArthur “genius award” at age 21.) Wolfram Research is best known for developing Mathematica, the must-have software for students and professionals in the sciences. In 2009, Wolfram Research launched Wolfram Alpha, based on applying Wolfram Research’s computational approaches to other topics than math. Simply put, the developers at Wolfram Research developed a super-powered “question-answer” engine. It retrieves and presents helpful information and answers like a calculator, It uses something called “dynamic computations” that surveys Alpha Wolfram’s vast collection of built-in data, external data sources, algorithms, and other secret-sauce methods. The information presented on its “results” page is sourced from a variety of academic, governmental and commercial databases, along with popular sources like Wikipedia. But unlike Google or Wikipedia, Wolfram Alpha adds a layer of expert curation and citation (i.e., providing date and source of the information) to the results. 

No longer just for the math pros

With its Mathematica roots, many of Wolfram Alpha’s features deal with advanced math. But math and scientific computations arent’t all Wolfram Alpha can do. New types of data are being introduced steadily that provide more kinds of features helpful in planning, research and on-going monitoring of marketplaces.


Some features are free, but if you want to drill down into the data or have access to specific types of tools, a $65.88 per year “pro” version is required. However, the Wolfram Alpha app costs $2.99—forever—and most of the pro version features are included in the app. You don’t need to be a math major to figure out that’s a deal. 

A few examples of things Wolfram Alpha can do

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 Transportation Wolfram_Alpha__Computational_Knowledge_Engine Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 3.59.36 PM

Salaries and Wages Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 8.46.11 PM Wolfram_Alpha_Examples__Salaries___Wages

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Add a Wolfram Alpha answer widget to your website or blog

There are hundreds of widgets (or you can create one) that allow you to display calculators related to your business or subject focus on your blog or website. For example, if you are curious about the data related to your life expectancy, try out the widget below:

The Wolfram Alpha App

Wolfram Alpha turns your smart device into a brilliant device. In addition to being a calculator for mathematicians, the app does all the cool things mentioned above—plus tens of thousands more. And, as we mentioned, the app costs $2.99 rather than the $65.88 subscription model. (iOS and Android)


Stephen Wolfram’s original explanation of Wolfram Alpha

Part 1 | Stephen Wolfram’s introduction of Wolfram Alpha in 2010.

Part 2 | Stephen Wolfram’s introduction of Wolfram Alpha in 2010.