Wolfram Alpha and Yahoo!: Destined for Failure

First, the release of Wolfram Alpha, a computational knowledge engine that crawls the web to calculate the answers to questions.

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Written by Damon on May 19, 2009

TitanicFirst, the release of Wolfram Alpha, a computational knowledge engine that crawls the web to calculate the answers to questions. And now Yahoo!’s announcement that they’re going to can the links and just throw out the answers because that’s what searchers want.

Bold? yes. Interesting? sure. Successful? not a chance.

The problem with both Wolfram Alpha and Yahoo?’s new direction is that if they suck, they’re going to fail, and if they rock, they’re going to fail.

Let’s pretend Wolfram Alpha improves to the point where it works well for most queries and Yahoo? is able to do the same. Let’s even extend the fantasy to the point where both search engines gain traction and a large market share.

What’s going to happen? Most content producers are going to lose the incentive to produce good content.

Search engines crawl the web getting free content, skirting the fringe of copyright by allowing webmasters to block them if they choose, and in exchange they send free traffic to the content producers who are able to make money by selling crap or showing ads for crap.

A successful Wolfram Alpha and Yahoo? won’t be sending the content producers free traffic, they’ll take the best content while preventing the people who create the content from profiting.

Dead-tree media companies already howl about Google crawling their and making it accessible to people even though they get preferential treatment. Stop giving them their cut and get ready to see them unleash the dogs of law before finally going all dinosaur on the world.

While Wolfram Alpha and Yahoo? are fighting, and losing, legal challenges, there’s only one realistic outcome. Content producers are going to block Wolfram Alpha and Yahoo? from crawling their sites.

It may be killing a great and useful idea, but, if someone can kill the electric car, then killing these two seems rather trivial and profitable.

Photo Credit: Moore Fun

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