Powerset has launched (Powerset.com) and it unveils natural language search capabilities to find answers on Wikipedia, the first dataset that they’ve indexed. Instead of typing things like “Google acquisitions” into, well, Google, you’d type in “who did Google acquire” into Powerset and get back your results.
Wait, what? How is that useful?
Before people get up in arms about my example, it’s on their homepage under the Unlock Meaning section for search queries to try on Powerset. Here’s a list of some other queries they’re hyping as good examples of the technology:
- actors in Pulp Fiction
- what causes diabetes
- who signed the Kyoto Protocol
Perhaps it’s just me and my above-average keyword searching capabilities, but finding these facts on Google would be trivial. When on Google and searching for “pulp fiction actors” the very first result is the IMDB listing with full information and the full answer to my query. When looking on Powerset it gives me a scrollable view of the actors. When I click on an actor, it brings me to another page which is a copy-and-paste job from Wikipedia, but on a Powerset page. The future is here!
If the benefit touted by Powerset is that you don’t have to click to the first result in the list to find your answers — instead, presenting them on the page — and that’s all they’ve got, then they’ve got nothing. The iPhone is killing the cellphone industry not because it’s “everything else that’s out there plus some other features” but because it’s a quantum leap ahead of what’s out there. When Steve Jobs announced it he talked heavily about the “high technology” features and how the technology in the iPhone is at least 5 years ahead of anything else out there. And he was right. Powerset isn’t 5 years ahead of anything, it’s just giving you what Google might have given you if you slightly alter your query.
Danny Sullivan from SearchEngineLand.com had a fantastic quote in the NYTimes article linked previously from which I pulled the title of this blog entry:
“They have a new and interesting technology that most people donâ€™t really need right now,” said Danny Sullivan, a search expert and editor of SearchEngineLand.com. Mr. Sullivan also said that analyzing the meaning of pages, as Powerset does, demands so much computing power that the company is unlikely to be able to index the entire Web any time soon.
Danny his the nail on the head and drives it right into the wood. People are used to keyword searching and they’ve been perfecting their searching skills for years. Powerset gives you the same results in a different format, but it requires a different search syntax. This is like giving professional baseball players a new and improved baseball, but you have to throw it with two hands on the ball at all times. If you throw it with two hands, and do it perfectly, it will go the same speed as you used to be able to throw a normal baseball. What a feature!
Microsoft is rumored to be looking at Powerset as an acquisition target and I truly hope they buy it. If Ballmer thinks that Powerset is the key to taking down Google, then I’d love to see them try and fail over the next 2 years while they ramp up and give it a shot.