Wolfram Alpha, the much-anticipated service from scientist Stephen Wolfram for computing the answers to factual questions, will officially launch on Monday, but its team is working hard to gradually roll the service out tonight. How do I know? I, along with more than 5,000 others, are watching the launch on livestreaming video service Justin.tv.
I imagine there will be many more than 5,000 people using the “answer engine” as it goes live over the weekend, and especially once it’s officially launched next week. Still, I’m impressed that there’s enough interest in Wolfram Alpha that thousands of people are sacrificing their Friday night (or Saturday morning, depending on where they’re watching) to see a bunch of computer scientists discuss their work in a fair amount of detail.
For me, the live stream, from Wolfram Alpha headquarters in Champaign, Ill., alternates between fascinating and mind-bogglingly dull. Hosted by Wolfram’s colleagues Thomas Gray and Max Whitby, there’s a lot of walking around the headquarters, staring at hardware, and pronouncements like, “You need data very close to your nodes.” Meanwhile, slightly-less-academic comments stream by in the Justin.tv chat window, with viewers proclaiming things like, “LOLOL.”
Early on in the broadcast, Gray said, “We’re making an effort not to put too much effort into our live broadcast,” and that certainly shows — while there are some pre-recorded segments, this is extremely unpolished. (The format of two people filling time on-camera while many others work in the background reminds me of public television pledge drives.) It’s cool to see what’s going on behind-the scenes, but not cool enough for me to keep watching for hours and hours. I’m looking forward to trying Wolfram Alpha tonight or later this weekend. For now, I’ve heard more than enough talk about load balancing.