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While Google Graphs in 3D, WolframAlpha Takes Shakespeare to Heart

By   /  April 11, 2012  /  No Comments

Last week speculation reigned about whether Google had set its sites on computational knowledge engine WolframAlpha, with the announcement that the search engine now is using WebGL technology for enhancing users’ ability to interact with complex, compound math functions. The search giant in December added 2-D graphing to its delivery of computed answers for calculations typed into its search box, and the most recent update means users now can plot and manipulate 3D graphs.

In addition to Google just wanting to own as much of search as possible – and increasingly to want to be a more semantically-enabled answer engine for user queries – discussion pointed to the fact that Wolfram Alpha is integrated with Apple’s Siri technology to help deliver factual answers to iPhone  user queries. And Google itself reportedly is working on a Siri rival in a project code-named Majel that potentially could one-up Siri when it comes to delivering answers to requested information. Not to mention the recently publicized – and both lauded and lampooned – Project Glass, which has been described here as Google’s Siri for your eyes. (See the video here.) As of February, according to the NY Times, Siri accounted for 25 percent of all searches made on WolframAlpha.

WolframAlpha decided to make some more news of its own yesterday, following an already busy first quarter that saw, among other things, the launch of Wolfram Alpha Pro, a fee-based service that lets users compute with their own data, get dynamic versions of existing Wolfram|Alpha output, and download what WolframAlpha computes as data.

Now it’s added to its repertoire a feature that provides some computational insights into the work of the immortal Bard.

Shakespeare-lovers, scholars and students the world over now can enter the name of one of the Great One’s plays into Wolfram|Alpha and find out basics such as number of acts, scenes, and characters, as well as in-depth information like the longest word, most frequent words, number of words and sentences, and more. You can find out how many words a specific character speaks, how many appearances he makes, and who with and when he has dialog with another character.

In addition, according to the WolframAlpha blog, it’s” also easy to find more specific information about a particular act or scene with queries like “What is the longest word in King Lear?”, “What is the average sentence length of Macbeth?”, and “How many unique words are there in Twelfth Night?”.

To an English and American Lit grad, who was just marveling over Frank Delaney’s podcast analysis series here of James Joyce’s Ulysses – including the number of appearances of certain words in the massive tome – this is cool stuff. It’s not limited to Shakespeare, either – Melville’s Moby Dick, Dickens’ Great Expectations, and Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are accounted for as well. The comment thread already is asking for more – The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Bible, for instance, to be added to its set of licensed database and content sources for tagging and cataloguing to enable similar ends.

As for Shakespeare, it’s possible to spend hours exploring the canon in this fashion: Did you know, for instance, that Prospero speaks close to 1,864 words in The Tempest, compared to some 1,000 words that are on average spoken by most of the other main characters?  Or that the longest word in Love’s Labours Lost is honorificabilitudinitatibus? We’ll let you have at that one and look up what it means yourself. After all, as Shakespeare wrote, “pleasure and action make the hours seem short.”

About the author

Jennifer Zaino is a New York-based freelance writer specializing in business and technology journalism. She has been an executive editor at leading technology publications, including InformationWeek, where she spearheaded an award-winning news section, and Network Computing, where she helped develop online content strategies including review exclusives and analyst reports. Her freelance credentials include being a regular contributor of original content to The Semantic Web Blog; acting as a contributing writer to RFID Journal; and serving as executive editor at the Smart Architect Smart Enterprise Exchange group. Her work also has appeared in publications and on web sites including EdTech (K-12 and Higher Ed), Ingram Micro Channel Advisor, The CMO Site, and Federal Computer Week.

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