(Powerset vs. Google) vs. Search Industry

Powerset has positioned itself as the company that is going to bring down Google.

The reason I'm excited isn't because Mark Johnson looks like Bill Gates, or because he has a super high voice, it's because its natural-language technology is being licensed from PARC (the Palo Alto Research Center and susidiary of Xerox Corp.). Renowned for hatching breakthroughs such as the computer mouse and the graphical interface for personal computers, is it possible they are up to their old tricks?

If you haven't seen the somewhat limited promo video you can view it here on YouTube. There is also a demo from the TechCrunch40 conference here (part 1) and here (part 2). I'm not convinced yet but there are tons of other video's talking about it: CNBC, Get Connected, Kron 4.

When Google launched I wasn't much of an Internet Evangelist. But after nearly a decade they are a part of my daily life. I'm not too sure how natural-language search will trump a simple keyword search. Is it really easier to find what you are looking for using natural-language? I'm not too sure that it is. In the 1990s, Ask Jeeves was founded on the premise that Internet search requests should be presented as simple questions. It then frustrated users with too many irrelevant answers. After nearly failing in the dot-com bust, the company embraced the keyword approach to search and abandoned its mascot, a cartoon butler named Jeeves, to distance itself from the days it relied on natural-language algorithms. It is now known simply as Ask.com.

Google was a huge success because they were so simple. They only had one search box and their name on their home page. With more slower connections back then, users like myself found Google the best bet for quick searches. I've never looked back since (although I really do like Yahoo!). But I'm not sure that this is the case anymore. If I can't find something on Google that I can find using Powerset then I'd be happy ... Any how ...

Powerset is gradually opening its testing ground, dubbed Powerlabs, to 16,000 people who signed up to get an early glimpse at the search engine, myself included. During this test phase, Powerlabs is only indexing material from Wikipedia so it will be interesting to see how the natural search term Who is Matt Stark? produces results.

The San Francisco-based startup is so confident that its methods are superior to Google that they will present some answers alongside what its rival returns when asked the same questions. Powerset is requiring its users to vote on which engine produced better results before they are allowed to enter another search request.

There is a site called Hakia that already does natural-language search but I'm not sure it is as fast or comprehensive as Google. Understanding the meaning of many words is difficult without people involved. Unfortunately for Powerset, I'm not sure there is demand for this type of search at this point in time! But nonetheless, good luck Powerset, good luck! Can't wait to see you guys integrate this over voice using integrated GPS on a mobile phone "Where is good Chinese food?".

Over and Out

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