When I worked a reference desk, I sometimes fielded questions from lawyers (or attorneys as we called them) needing to identify information about a particular stock. They were handling an estate and needed to know its value on a given day. This historic research is pretty easy using Yahoo! Finance or Marketwatch, both of which I discuss in the text.
But I wanted an easier solution. I was intrigued by a post on Lifehacker that talked about using Wolframalpha‘s search engine to determine how many calories you burn taking a certain number of steps. I wondered if I could use Wolframalpha to always return the pieces of information I would need if I wanted a stock value on a given day. Here is the search I put together, after a a bit of trial and error:
stock_symbol month day, year opening closing high low
Here’s what it looks like:
Spelling out the dates ensures that you get M/D/Y instead of D/M/Y.
The problem I found, though,was that the Wolframalpha results looked good (try it and see by clicking the link above), they were partly wrong. A bit like having a wolframalpha in sheep’s clothing – or a beer in squirrel’s clothing. Not what you’d expect.
This would have been a great shortcut but after comparing some other stock symbols and dates, I found that the opening was usually correct, the closing was sometimes wrong, and the highs and lows were always wrong (and often the same). So I will be heading back to my old standbys for this sort of research, thinking of ways to use WolframAlpha in the future, and reminding myself that using a site focused on the stock market for historic stock information is probably easier than testing a data search tool.