Saturday, May 16, 2009

Seriously, Wolfram

Wolfram Alpha is out. Of course a great big public webcammed exactly-at-this-hour-we-go-live launch just screwed things up, so of course it was late: you don't cut a ribbon on a website that will attract millions of users and expect it to work. You open it up without press and you send out the release 8 hours later as it is about to hit Digg and Slashdot.

I leave discussing the computational nature of this 'search engine' (it isn't, so stop calling it that) to others; whether this thing with all its static, pre-parsed, non-real-time information is actually useful we shall only see over the coming years. What I do want to say, well, more ask, is, good lord, was there any reason other than 'prettyness' to output every table on the results screen as an image? With an extra piece of plain-text to copy and paste the results for other places? How does this work with screen readers? With mobile sites? How is this going to scale? How much more bandwidth does it use than a table and a little CSS? How slow will these be when stuck in a rural corner that only has an EGDE or standard GSM data connection? I can't even search for text inside the page right now with (Option or Ctrl)+F; all results text is hidden in these images. It's like the whole thing is output as a Flash splash-screen: abandoned by clued-in web creators since 2002.