Wolfram|Alpha, Telemarketers
and Discoveries In A Bad-Mood

Have you tried Wolfram|Alpha yet?

Ever take your phone number off the Federal ‘Do Not Call List?’

A ringing phone begs to be answered. Wolfram|Alfpa tries to provide answers.

It’s a very lose connection I know, but be patient, if you stay with me there is discovery here.

It started as a trickle of sales calls, but quickly became a flood. (Even discounting political calls, a waist high flood.) Turns out my number had been removed from the “Do Not Call” registry.  The din was overwhelming and the frustration of both caller and target were bubbling over.

I have nothing against reputable telemarketers, I have clients who are still trying to responsibly use the channel as a sales tool. But the tactics I heard indicate things aren’t going to get better for the industry’s reputation any time soon.

Fibs that started conversations:

  • “We have important information about your credit card”
  • “Your car warranty has expired”
  • “We are in your neighborhood”

Now if you have to start a sales conversation with a fib things are probably not going to end well. Today I got yet another call concerning a contest I won (apparently 6 years ago in the Wisconsin Dells, talk about milking a list) and I became a bit irritated. When would this end?

That’s where the new Wolfram|Alpha information tool comes in.

Wolfram|Alpha is the brainchild of scientist Stephen Wolfram creator of Mathmatica and author of A New Kind Of Science and CEO of Wolfram Research.  With it he is trying to make all ‘systemic information immediately computable …by anyone.’ How cool is that.

I had been trying to figure out what it does when I got mad at the telemarketer. Inspiration. Did you know the number of people employed as telemarketers has declined every year since 2002. (You enter ‘telemarketers people employed’ and you get a nice graph that heads down year after year.)

What’s fun is you can ask for calculations against other statistics, say, US Population. Turns out back in 2002 one in 693 of us were telemarketers. In 2007 it was one in 864.

All the information is from online sources. However, the effort to ‘curate’ information allows multiple sources can be compared, contrasted and computed using formula like expressions. More than likely this will lead to a lot of nonsense as we start comparing sets of data that have no relationship to each other.  For example, you will be happy to know, since telemarketing calls tend to raise blood pressure, the number of nurses as compared to telemarketers has been increasing – now at about 7 nurses per telemarketer. (You enter nurses people employed / telemarketers people employed and get an answer.)

Wolfram|Alpha is not a search engine like Google. If you ask it a question that doesn’t ‘compute’ it does not give an answer. It doesn’t present a list of web pages where you might find the answer, it tries to present information organized into the answer you have asked. It is not overly intuitive, meaning it may be frustrating. There is a limit to the amount of information it has available so far. It does, however, know a bit about telemarketers.

As the information it absorbs increases, it will make it much easier to find surprising comparisons that end up having meaning. (Don’t look at me yet, this thing has a learning curve!)

So, my irritation with telemarketers leads me to my first hint at how powerful Wolfram|Alpha might be. Good from bad? Gotta leave yourself open to the new discovery no matter how foul your mood.

Update 6/10/09: Google has launched a competitor to Wolfram Alpa called Google Squared. It seems to be more focused on ‘tabelizing’ information. For example, type in States and you get a list of U.S. states in one column, maps in the next, description, motto, state bird in the next, etc.  Seems like this will be very useful as well and may be more useful for general use than Wolfram. But it doesn’t seem to have the adaptability to create equations that Wolfram brings. Interesting first look here. Competition Is Good.

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4 Responses to Wolfram|Alpha, Telemarketers
and Discoveries In A Bad-Mood

  1. J.D. Meier says:

    Too cool and I like your story. It lights it up.

    I heard about the tool recently, but I didn’t have an relevant scenario to really enjoy it.

    J.D. Meier’s last blog post..Don’t Always Go for the Long Shot

    • I found it hard to get my head around. I have a feeling a lot more explanation needs to go into the syntax structure for setting up formulas and what kind of data is already there.

  2. Andrew says:


    This is the first that I have personally heard about Wolfram Alpha, but it sounds like an interesting tool.

    Whilst I have nothing against legitimate telemarketing firms, I despise those who use any form of half truths, lies or misleading information of any kind, and I seriously question the viability of the offering of any firm which feels that it needs to engage in any form of misleading conduct of any kind during the telemarketing process.

    If your firm’s offering is genuinely attractive, and telemarketing really is the right channel for which to market your offering, then you should be able to make sales by being plain and honest with your prospective customers.

    Andrew’s last blog post..You bet, you lose, your problem

    • Hi Andrew, There has been quite a bit of noise about the launch here in the States, but most of it confusing the tool with Google.

      Telemarketing has a lot of issues that have been making it less effective, including the uptick in shady practices. But like any sales tool, I agree – good message around a product folks want and you can do well. Part of the issue here is that robo-calling is so inexpensive and so many households have put themselves on the do-not-call-list that for those who remain the number of calls is deafening. (By the time I figured out what had happened we were getting a couple every hour all day long.)