Forbes on Powerset

June 19, 2008

Forbes Magazine has an interesting article about Powerset, Chris Taylor’s “The Next Search Frontier: Just Ask Your Question“. I often have difficulty locating information on the Forbes’ Web site. Sometimes I grow frustrated with the pop up ads and page latency, so snag this article quickly.)

The key point in the article for me was this statement:

Powerset’s main asset is a partnership with PARC, the Palo Alto research center that incubated the computer mouse and the laser printer. In 2005, Pell discovered that PARC researchers had been working for 30 years on turning English into software code. Pell promptly licensed PARC’s research and hired the top scientists in the field, starting with Powerset co-founder Lorenzo Thione.

Xerox PARC (now simply PARC — it’s officially a subsidiary company of Xerox) has been an innovator for many years. But my experience has been that some of its better ideas are difficult to commercialize and convert into major revenue winners. Inxight Software, a PARC spin out, gained some market success and was acquired by Business Objects, which in turn was acquired by SAP. Powerset’s tie up with PARC will be another opportunity to convert ideas into revenue.

You can test drive Powerset here. Information about PARC is here.

I am accustomed to formulating queries with Boolean ANDs and NOTs. Typing questions is too much work for me. With the average query creeping up to 2.3 words on major public search engines, the idea that a well formed question will revolutionize search seems unlikely.

Natural language processing, like semantic and linguistics mechanisms, may be best suited for work behind the scenes, not in front of the user.

Stephen Arnold, June 19, 2008


One Response to “Forbes on Powerset”

  1. Charlie Hull on June 19th, 2008 4:36 am

    At (sadly defunct) we tried to get people to type in more than two words, by letting them drag-and-drop documents or cut-and-paste text onto a custom tool, that would then extract a lot more context for their query. Didn’t really catch on, sadly – although the Google toolbar and browser extensions are close to this. Users expect to type in a few words and for the magic to happen behind the scenes.