AN OXFORDSHIRE IT firm has created a new web tool which the inventors believe could become as popular as Google.

Wolfram Research, based in Long Hanborough, near Witney, launched wolframalpha- .com as a search engine designed to make expert knowledge available at everyone’s fingertips.

The site gives people direct answers to factual queries – often in the form of charts or statistics – rather than re-directing them to other sites like a conventional search engine.

Named the ‘computational knowledge engine’ it is the brain-child of former Dragon School pupil, physicist Stephen Wolfram, who founded the firm in 1987. Jon McLoone, a senior developer at the firm, said: “We are trying to fill a factual void so you don’t have to look at individual sites to find answers to questions.

“It is going to really help scientists look up information quickly and have a dramatic effect on people doing technical work, but it will put factual and analytical information that affect people’s everyday life at their fingertips.

“It’s never going to tell you things like whether one film is better than another, but it will try to answer factual things. For example, you might type in ‘who was the director of Dr Zhivago?’ or it could tell you what the weather was like on, say, your birthday on June 10 years ago.”

Mr Wolfram’s brother Conrad, who runs the Oxfordshire base, said: “It’s a huge new direction for the web.”

It is powered by a computer software system called Mathematica, a technology developed by the company which carries out calculations when a query is entered. The software is used across the world.

Over the first weekend Wolfram Alpha went live, the technology generated answers for 13.7 million queries.

Mr McLoone said dozens more Oxfordshire jobs could be created as the firm expands over the next few years.

He added: “It’s a great marker to reach because there is no other website like this in the world.

“We always thought one day we would be able to ask computers anything and this is one more step towards this goal.

“We are filling a unique gap and we hope we will become one of the half a dozen sites that people use regularly.”

“You can certainly thank the Oxford education system for creating the talent behind it.

“It goes to show world-class intellectual things happen here in Oxfordshire, which is a nice thing for people to know about their surroundings.”

The firm also has offices in the USA and Japan.

Mr McLoone added: “We have work to do for sure – out of the queries this weekend, about three quarters turned out something useful.”