Wolfram|Alpha Pro – Crunching Your Data, and the World’s

The world around us is filled with data. We live in the information age, and often, our greatest challenge is not that we don’t have the right data, but we don’t know what to do with it. Wolfram|Alpha is an innovative service that tries to take some of the complexity out of the data around us, sorting it into info we can really use.

Wolfram|Alpha is built on the power of Mathemetica, a popular mathematics and computational tool used in education and research alike. It can solve advanced math, but can also take that same power to help you do research into population, finance, health, and more. It’s even the power behind much of the iPhone 4S’ Siri, helping dig up facts for users in seconds.

The Wolfram|Alpha team has constantly released updates to the service to help it handle increasingly advanced queries, and today, they’ve launched the biggest change to the service yet with the new Pro offering. Now you can put it to work on your own data, not just public data they’ve amassed, and you can download data to continue your research elsewhere.

It's the same old Wolfram|Alpha, with a ton of new Pro features

It’s More Than Search, it’s a Platform

Wolfram|Alpha is one of the best ways to find the most detailed results about the things you’ve always wondered about. From converting measurements, even non-similar ones like, say, a cup of butter in grams, to finding detailed info about the world’s statistics, to figuring out step-by-step how to solve a calculus problem, Wolfram|Alpha is one of the best tools around. It won’t be able to answer everything you throw at it, but it can definitely be pretty amazing.

It’s been obvious from the start that it could be useful for far more than just a basic search tool. Using their API, Microsoft has built Wolfram|Alpha into Bing, and developers have put it into website widgets and iOS apps. Now, Wolfram has taken their own app to the next level, making it into much more of a platform in itself. They’ve added user accounts, free for anyone, that let you save your search history (very useful if you’re using it for research), mark favorite queries, and tweak your settings.

But the best stuff has been saved for Pro accounts. With a pro account, which costs $4.99/month or $2.99/month if you’re a student, you’ll have new ways to enter data into Wolfram|Alpha, including your own files for analysis, and a ton of new ways to save your findings to read later or use in other applications. You can signup for a free 2 week trial, or you can testdrive the new features from some sample queries on the front page.

Signing up for an account, even a free one, has a number of benefits

Getting More Data Into Wolfram|Alpha

The pro features are all about helping you get more data into and out of Wolfram|Alpha. Everyone, free and paid users alike, gets to use the same computing power (though pro users can do longer computations, as they’re allotted more computing time per query). But, you might get better results just because you can use more data in a Pro account. You’ll get a new on-screen keyboard to make it easier to enter special characters, similar to the keyboards contained in Wolfram|Alpha’s mobile apps. It’s a nice feature, but not necessary as you could enter these characters manually if you can find them on your computer.

The new extended on-screen keyboard

What really takes it to the next level, though, is that you can now upload files for Wolfram|Alpha to analyze with a Pro account. You can upload dozens of filetypes, from spreadsheets to documents to advanced data files from scientific research apps. You can also upload raw data in tabular form to analyze directly without uploading a file.

You can find some quite interesting things with your files, especially if they contain a lot of structured data. It showed the character and word counts, estimated reading time, most common words, and more from a plain text eBook file. However, a plain text chat log revealed much less data, only showing the total number of words and characters. It analyzed some PDFs great, while it seemed to think another PDF file I tried was a binary file.

Even while it’s much better at finding patterns and interesting info from organized data such as spreadsheets, my bank’s CSV export file proved to have too  much extraneous info for it to make much sense of. That’s why the free trial’s great: you can see if it can handle the data you want before you pay for it. When it does do good with files, though, it can be very great. Some of their example spreadsheets on the site show auto-generated graphs, averages, and more, just by uploading the file.

Analyzing data from files is a bit hit-and-miss

Interestingly, you can also upload images, and Wolfram|Alpha will generate a wide variety of info about the pictures automatically. I tried uploading just a standard picture from a Cannon digital camera, but Wolfram|Alpha rejected it, saying it could only take pictures that were 1Mb or smaller. Instead, I tried out a 1.2 megapixel shot from my phone, which came under their size limit. Moments later, I got to see the most common hexadecimal colors in the picture, a histogram, as well as a variety of adjustments and tweaks on the picture. Nothing that you couldn’t find with Photoshop, but still neat, especially the hexadecimal colors.

You can find some interesting info from your pictures

Taking Your Wolfram|Alpha Answers Further

Analyzing your own data could prove to be one of Wolfram|Alpha Pro’s best features over time, but it’ll be of more niche use for those who need to analyze tons of data. For most users, the new ways to use the data Wolfram|Alpha gives you might be the best uses of a Pro account. You can now download the data that Wolfram|Alpha found for your query  in a variety of formats, so you can open it in your favorite spreadsheet app, save it as an image, download it in json format to integrate into your website, or save it as a Mathematica file to open in a desktop version of Wolfram|Alpha’s big brother.

Download the real data behind your WolframAlpha answers

Then, if you’re getting info that includes a graph or diagram, you can zoom in and see a higher quality larger copy of the graph. You can also customize the graph with different color schemes, and download it to your computer in a variety of formats. For each download, whether a raw data export or an image, Wolfram|Alpha will use credits to restrict how many downloads you can have.

Pro accounts will come with 500 credits per month, and then image downloads will use 75 credits each while data downloads use 100 credits. You can purchase more, or just wait until the next month to download more. It’d be nice to see more credits given per month, as only a few downloads would use up that much credit rather quickly. The good thing is, you can always redownload any image or data file you’ve saved in Wolfram|Alpha from your account, which is great for doing research projects over time. Another good thing is that you can download a PDF file of the full Wolfram|Alpha search results in one page for free, without using any credits.

Download graphs and images in a variety of formats and designs

Conclusion

All in all, Wolfram|Alpha Pro represents a huge step forward for the service, making it an online computing engine for almost any data you can throw at it. It’s still an amazing service for free, and if you need to use it to analyze your own data or want to take the data it gives you further, the Pro accounts are a great option. They’re reasonably priced, and include features that can be useful to everyone from students to researchers to everyday businessmen just looking to find extra info from their spreadsheets.

If you’ve never given Wolfram|Alpha a try, or haven’t used it lately, be sure to check it out. It’s amazingly great for anything math related, and contains answers for a wide variety of other topics, too. Now, with file support, it’s an even more versatile way to make the loads of data we see every day make more sense.


Summary

Wolfram|Alpha is one of the best ways to find data about the world around you, from the next lunar eclipse to the amount of caffeine in your coffee. Wolfram|Alpha Pro lets you take this computing power to your own data, finding more about your files and images, and bringing Wolfram|Alpha data to your own apps.

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