08 October 2013

WolframAlpha -- What is it and why might Genealogists care?

WolframAlpha ... what is it?  As its own website states:

Wolfram|Alpha's long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone.

We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything. Our goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.

If you are like me, you are scratching your head about both what it can do for you and why should you as a genealogist care!

WolframAlpha itself tries to give us a sense of this via a few posted genealogy examples where relationships are computed.

I found the description for the associated Genealogy & History app provided a little more clarity.
  • Were their names common at that time?
  • What happened on their birthdays?
  • What was the weather like on your grandparents' wedding day?
  • What were the towns they lived in like, including demographics, and how far are they from where you live?
  • What was 20 dollars worth the year your great-grandmother was born?
  • What is the technical relationship between you and your grandfather's sister?
Fortunately for us, two genealogy bloggers have tried to better illustrate what we, as genealogists and family historians, might do with it.
·    WolframAlpha: A New Tool for Genealogy (Thomas MacEntee via Archives.com)
·    Using WolframAlpha for Family History Calculations (Leiland Meitzler via GenealogyBlog)

I will be honest and say that I sorta see the potential and yet my first, second and third thought is that there are other previously available tools created within our own community that I would use to compute relationships, assess the value of money, and/or that I might consult to determine a birth date based on death date and age-at-death details, etc.  Though, there is always value to having such tools aggregated.

And, are there other ways that something like WolframAlpha might be used to help us in our family research quest?

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