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2/6/2012
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Wolfram Alpha Learns Image, Data Tricks

Wolfram Alpha adds paid subscription service that provides new image and data analysis capabilities.

10 Lessons Learned By Big Data Pioneers
10 Lessons Learned By Big Data Pioneers
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Computational knowledge engine Wolfram Alpha has been upgraded with a number of significant new capabilities that will be offered starting on Wednesday under a paid subscription program called Wolfram Alpha Pro.

Company founder and CEO Stephen Wolfram in a preview video characterized the paid service as the single biggest step that Wolfram Alpha has taken since its launch.

Wolfram said that instead of an anonymous, drive-by experience, Wolfram Alpha Pro allows people to log in and get more involved.

As many websites have discovered, personalization can enhance the user experience and profitability, something Wolfram Alpha reportedly achieved shortly after launch through sponsorships and a content deal with Microsoft's Bing.

A fee can help with profitability, too. Wolfram Alpha Pro costs $4.99 per month, or $2.99 per month for students. Custom educational and enterprise pricing is also available.

[ Like Apple and its iBooks Author software, Wolfram Research places specific contractual requirements on content it generates. Read Wolfram Alpha Claims Authorship Rights For Machines. ]

Wolfram Alpha Pro's most significant feature is its ability to accept images as input. Subscribers can drag images onto the Wolfram Alpha Web page and the service will return image statistics (dimensions, aspect ratio, etc.), image metadata, color information, and a series of image panels. These allow image filtering operations similar to basic operations in Adobe Photoshop. Pro users are entitled to 20 image queries per month at no extra charge.

The image interface allows users to enable interactivity for some kinds of graphics by converting static images into CDF (computational document format) files. CDF-formatted graphs, for example, can be manipulated and explored in real-time.

The image interface also includes support for downloading raw data and for customizing and saving images. Such files can be used on other websites or in online presentations.

Data uploading represents another Pro feature. Users can enter numerical or tabular data directly into a Wolfram Alpha browser text box to be analyzed. In his preview video, Wolfram demonstrates how this capability can be used to perform statistical analysis on a data set of message dates and message subject categories. Wolfram Alpha automatically organizes the data and creates relevant charts about the content of the messages.

"What we're doing here is we're using all the linguistic capabilities of Wolfram Alpha to understand the data that was input," he said. "The mission of Wolfram Alpha Pro is to tell a story, to tell us something interesting about the data."

To facilitate data uploading, Wolfram Alpha now supports over 60 different file formats for data, sound, text, and graphics.

Wolfram Alpha Pro also offers a computational keyboard, for entering the Greek symbols used to construct mathematical formulas. And it raises the amount of computational time available for queries, making it less likely that computationally intensive queries will time-out.

"Working with data has been a specialty activity in the past," said Wolfram. "What Wolfram Alpha has done--and I've been very pleased about this--is taken these things that were expert activities and made them consumer activities."

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