Could Powerset threaten Google’s dominance?

Written on February 19, 2008 – 11:31 am | by bigoak |

What if there was a search engine that actually understood natural English language search queries? Before you say, “What do you mean? Google understands English,” understand that I am being literal. What if there was a search engine that you could talk to like a person and actually have it spit back relevant results? What if you could type in a search query like “Who mocked Tony Blair yesterday?” and receive the exact result you were looking for.

Well, that’s the goal of the Silicon Valley start up, and they mean business. This isn’t just some company based out of a nineteen year-old’s garage. Some very powerful and influential people are behind the project, including the co-founder of Paypal, Peter Thiel, and Dr. Jay Tenenbaum, the founder of the first company to conduct a commercial Internet transaction, Enterprise Integration Technologies.

Powerset seems to understand that if it wants to challenge Google in search, it can’t try to beat it at its own game. It realizes that it must innovate by offering something different, just as Google realized. While the major search engine companies gave up on the idea of natural language search engines long ago, the people behind Powerset kept dreaming.

According to Powerset’s blog, Powerset is superior to the other engines because it can analyze a given query for its meaning and then look for sentences in its index that have a similar meaning. Powerset matches the structure and meaning of a given query with the structure and meaning of every sentence and document in the index. Then it returns results that match the exact intent of the searcher.

Therefore, if you did a Powerset search for “Who mocked Tony Blair?” Powerset would understand that you were looking only for results about who mocked Blair, not merely for passages that had the phrases “mocked” (and its synonyms) and “Blair” in them.

This screenshot from their private beta demonstrates the search in action. In this example, Powerset is only pulling results from Wikipedia.

Now, check out this screenshot of a Powerset search query for “Who proved Fermat’s last theorem?” If the vast majority of search results are as accurate as that one, then Google may have a real fight on its hands, even though the battle will clearly be an uphill one for Powerset.

If you wish to join in the private beta testing of Powerset, you can sign up here.

Presuming that Powerset lives up to the hype when it launches, what do you estimate the odds are that it can challenge Google?

  1. 4 Responses to “Could Powerset threaten Google’s dominance?”

  2. By Shell Harris on Feb 20, 2008 | Reply

    Will, I love the fact that someone has the testicular fortitude to challenge Google, even though it may only be in their own minds right now. It certainly seems like a long shot, but we need Google needs competition so a monopoly can be avoided.

  3. By Franken Hanken on Feb 24, 2008 | Reply

    I estimate the odds that it can challenge google are somewhere between .01% and .02%.

  4. By Timmy on Feb 25, 2008 | Reply

    I would love to see some real competitors on the market but do these guys have the technical knowledge and power to create something like this?
    The screenshots are impressive but is a long way to the finish line
    I strongly doubt it but only time will tell :D

  5. By SEO Solutions on Feb 25, 2008 | Reply

    searching/internet surfing will be on the next level.. seems like a very tough competition on the rise

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