In comparing these two specialised search engines, you must approach any findings from a very different perspective that, say, a comparison of Google search and Bing search. Whereas pretty much every search term and subsequent result from the latter two search engines can be quantified down to which one actually yields more relevant, accurate and useful search results, a comparison of Wolfram Alpha (I’m not going to write it with the “|” in between every time, that will get very tedious), the Computational Knowledge Engine, and Mahalo, the People Powered search engine, is not so easily ruled out and defined.
At the most basic level, a search on either site will only really be relevant to the topic you are searching for. Say for example you searched for, “Pythagorean Theorem” in Wolfram Alpha and Mahalo respectively (Click the links to do so). On one hand, Wolfram Alpha returns a straight forward, scientifically precise set of results, mostly because it is a simple theorem and it is the very sort of thing that the website was designed to handle and help with. It provides exactly the salient, factual points about your search term if it can and nothing more. When we look at the results gathered by the Mahalo search however, we see a very different picture. An entire list of content is presented to us, from video demonstrations of the theorem in action, history about it, related images, questions others have previously asked regarding the theorem and other similar material. In and of themselves, both searches have yielded perfectly valid results, with plenty of information about the requested subject. But depending on what you wanted to know in particular about your search query, one site’s results may prove vastly superior in this case.
Let’s take another example, to be fair to Mahalo, which was never really designed with such scientific purposes in mind. A search for “Cats” on Wolfram Alpha and Mahalo respectively yields these results. Again, although Cats is not a particularly scientific search term, Wolfram Alpha does its best to be as specific as possible in every given detail about this term, providing scientific names, the names of various breeds of cat, basic physical and biological properties as well as species information. Nothing about Cats being cute and cuddly, or even simply that cats can be pets. Looking at Mahalo’s results another story appears. A short blurb is presented to us, describing Cats in a more casual way, using superlatives and flowery adjectives in the descriptions. There are also abundant links to resources for cat owners or potential cat owners, links to books with more information (on sale at Amazon or other online book retailers) and even includes a funny cat video (as if there weren’t enough on the internet to begin with!). Once again, if you were, for example, doing scientific research on Cats, the Wolfram Alpha results would be more likely to fulfil your needs in searching for that particular term, whereas if you just were curious as to how to care for your cat, the Mahalo results are infinitely superior.
All in all, by their very nature, specialised search engines of any kind cannot be compared in a black and white sense – the deciding factor of quality of results will always be the context in which the results were searched.
Here are some other posts to consider on this topic: