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Bing teams up with Wolfram Alpha

Screengran of Wolfram Alpha homepage, Wolfram Research
Bing will use Wolfram's algorithms and data sets

Microsoft has teamed up with a web tool once hailed as a rival to Google to provide results for its search engine Bing.

Wolfram Alpha aims to answer questions directly, rather than display a list of links like a search engine.

The "computational knowledge engine" is the brainchild of British-born physicist Stephen Wolfram.

It will be used to bolster Bing's results in areas such as nutrition, health and mathematics.

The partnership will initially be rolled out in the US.

Bing has been gradually grabbing market share from other search engines since its launch in May.

Figures from Experian Hitwise suggest its market share in the US rose from 8.96% in September to 9.57% in October.

The figures put it well behind market leader Google which has 70.6% of the market.

'Diet tool'

Wolfram Alpha differentiates itself from standard search engines by attempting to answer questions directly.

The tool computes many of the answers "on the fly" by grabbing raw data from public and licensed databases.

Professor Stephen Wolfram explains how his search engine works.

People can use the system to look up simple facts - such as the height of Mount Everest - or crunch several data sets together to produce new results, such as a country's GDP.

The data it consults is chosen and managed by staff at Wolfram Research who ensure it can be displayed by the system.

The Wolfram team said the new partnership with Bing would allow Microsoft to access "tens of thousands of algorithms and trillions of pieces of data" to incorporate into its results.

Microsoft said that the nutritional and fitness data in Wolfram Alpha could be of use to the "roughly 90 million Americans" who choose diet to each year.

"When you search for specific food items on Bing, you'll get a nutrition quick tab that allows you to learn more about it," the firm said.

"You also get a nutrition facts label at the bottom of the results page that summarises all information on that food item in a very familiar and friendly format."

The partnership was made possible by Wolfram's decision to offer an API (Application Programming Interface) in October.

APIs are a set of protocols and tools offered by a firm to allow third party developers to build tools and services for a platform.

They have become increasingly common amongst web firms, such as Facebook and Twitter, who use them to extend their reach beyond their own website.

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