Having kept its technology under wraps for more than a year, 'natural language search engine' Powerset has finally opened up to the public.


The San Franscisco based startup has generated a fair amount of buzz around its product so far, having raised $12.5m in a Series A round of funding back in November 2006 and being valued at $80m on Henry Blodget's SAI25 list, even though it has barely launched.

The version released today is still in its early stages and mainly indexes content from Wikipedia and Freebase.

Is it any good then?

Powerset aims to distinguish itself from other search technology through the accuracy of its results, as well as the fact that it looks beyond finding web pages with relevant keywords and actually looks at the meaning behind the search terms.

For example, if I try to find out what the largest animal in the world is, Powerset returns results that directly answer the question:

Powerset search query

Once I click on the top result and go to Wikipedia, Powerset is still with you, offering a menu on the right hand side of the page which helps users jump directly to key sections of the article:

Powerset Wikipedia

Powerset menu

Powerset also provides a useful summary of 'factz', or keywords that are contained in the Wikipedia article that may be useful for quick reference:

Powerset 'factz'

Although it's possible to find questions that Powerset can't find the answer to, it works very well for most queries I entered, even the more obscure ones.

It also provides some useful search results if you want to search for a place or person rather than a direct question.

For example, a search for our Prime Minister returns some basic biographical data, including date and place of birth, as well as a picture, a list of related keywords and phrases and links to relevant web pages.

Powerset search: Gordon Brown

So, Powerset works well for searches on Wikipedia and Freebase, with relevant, well organised and easy to use results. I think the menu overlays would annoy me after a while though if they followed me to every site I visited.

Powerset eventually aims to make money from search ads, so will eventually have to broaden its indexing.

It has yet to justify the hype and its wild valuations, and the real test will come when the company broadens its search engine to index the entire web and attempt to compete with the Big G.

Besides, if some rumours are to be believed, the company may well find a buyer before this happens, with Microsoft said to be interested.

Related research:
UK Search Engine Marketing Report 2008

Related stories:
Powerset to launch a natural language search engine
Calacanis seeks another $20m for Mahalo

Graham Charlton

Published 13 May, 2008 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is editor in chief at SaleCycle, and former editor at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin.

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