Powerset - A Semantic Google Slapper


A company called Powerset is talking a big talk about slapping Google around and 'propelling' themselves past G courtesy of a 'natural language' engine that they will be launching later this year.

They announce a deal with PARC to exclusively develop the thirty-years-in-the-making technology, technology which they claim Google cannot match, and technology which will knock G's simplistic statistical analysis for six.

Obviously it's a PR puff piece (link), but there are some nice quotes:

The move is significant because Google’s own technology, based on “page rank,” has been virtually replicated by other search engines like Yahoo and MSN, and so isn’t as difficult to emulate as it was a few years ago. Powerset could possibly steal a lead if it improves search results by a significant measure with natural language and simultaneously incorporates a near-equivalent to Google’s existing capabilities. Powerset has been hiring lots of Yahoo search experts and others, to help it do that.

We’d be surprised if Google doesn’t scrutinize Powerset closely, perhaps even consider an acquisition (although in our Q&A today with Norvig, below, he says Google is now working on natural language after all). Until now, though, Google’s disciplined focus on a statistical approach may have blinded it to the possibilities of a linguistic approach, Powerset’s executives say. Powerset plans to launch the search engine publicly this year.

Kaplan, who has led the “natural language” group for several years, joined Powerset as chief technology officer in July. This is a coup for Powerset, because Kaplan did not respond to some early probes from Google. In an interview, Kaplan said he didn’t believe Google took natural language seriously enough. “Deep analysis is not what they’re doing. Their orientation is toward shallow relevance, and they do it well.”

And a familiar name:

Powerset has picked off a dozen high-profile search experts from Yahoo and elsewhere. Unfortunately, it revealed their names to VentureBeat only on condition we not publish them. One name now public is Tim Converse, a Yahoo Web spam expert. Powerset now has around 40 employees.


If you don't read his blog,

If you don't read his blog, Tim talked about leaving Yahoo here:

It's not the technology

It's not the technology behind the engine that makes it - it's the user experience.

Google's simple approach with added bells and whistles as and when required has been the real winner.

Google could roll back their algo to what it was 5 years ago, and the average user probably wouldn't notice any difference.

Powerset + Yahoo staffers > Google?

O, so they will be better than Google by hiring a bunch of Yahoo folks?? Wow, something is sure wrong with that picture…

.. oh and I guess they never heard of G and ‘Phrase Based IR’ methods? They may want to have a peek….

( now, now Matt, back to 'mount email' with U – who said U could come out and play??? He he )

"For Google to lose the

"For Google to lose the search game now would require a blunder of Yahoo-like proportions. (ouch! --RC) Specifically, Google would have to become so obsessed with, say, whipping Microsoft in the office productivity market that it took its eye off the search ball (the same way Yahoo did back in the late 90s, when it threw all its energies into becoming a portal and opened the search door for Google). It is not inconceivable that this will happen, but its also not likely." emphasis mine.

Powerset "Natural-Language Search" to Threaten Google? Please.

Tim seems to believe in them...

I interviewed Tim within a few days of him leaving yahoo and he briefly discussed powerset in vague terms here - you'll also find some info on powerset as well as the concept of natural language search from someone who demo'ed it here and for one that gives the other viewpoint from Danny in October, go here.

and you know this


this is evidenced by the firehose of traffic you get from sitting in the top 5 for a single-word, short character, high volume search term. you get a firehose of traffic because heaps of lazy bastards search with as few words as possible. it's easier.

danny hit the nail on the head:

No one from Google sat the searchers down and said "only two words, and don't use conjunctions." People search however they want -- and right now, they use only a few words.... Getting inside the minds and whispering "type longer" isn't going to be fun.

building a business that relies on convincing users to change their behavior sounds.... challenging.

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