Tuesday, April 07, 2009

reference is dead, quit yr kvetch


Rather than looking up the answer to your question, Wolfram|Alpha figures out what your question means, looks up the necessary data to answer your question, computes an answer, designs a page to present the answer in a pleasing way, and sends the page back to your computer.

Let me give three random examples.  If you enter the query, “3/26/2009 + 90 days” you’ll get a page that gives a date ninety days later than the first date.   If you enter “mt. everest height length of golden gate” you’ll get a page expressing the height of Mount Everest as a multiple of the length of the Golden Gate Bridge.  If you enter “temperature in los gatos,” you’ll get something like the current temperature, a graph of the temperatures over the last week with projections for the next few days, and a graph of the temperatures over the last year.

Wolfram|Alpha can pop out an answer to pretty much any kind of factual question that you might pose to a scientist, economist, banker, or other kind of expert.  The exciting part is that you’re not just looking up pages on the web, you’re getting new information that’s generated by computations working from the known data.  Wolfram says the response can be so speedy because, “We’ve found that, of all the things science can compute, most take a second or less.”


Librarians, this means it is now way way way past time you stop thinking about your profession in terms of what you have done at the reference desk, unless what you have done at the reference desk is get up and out from behind that reference desk and teach people how to find and evaluate information.

The game for librarians from here on out: teaching humans how to find and evaluate information.  Not delivering or gatekeeping information to humans (machines do that).

Bury the reference desk.

1 comment:

Spencer Smith said...

awesome. AWESOME!