Powerset: Is There More Than Buzzwords And Patent Threats?

from the do-we-have-anything-useful? dept

There's been so much hype around search startup Powerset that it seems like it's going to be quite difficult to live up to it. The company kicked off by raising a lot of money at an insanely high valuation for a seed stage company, and then used some of that cash to license some natural language technology from PARC. Of course, natural language search has been tried and failed many times before -- sometimes because the technology sucks, but more often because there just isn't that big a benefit to it compared to traditional keyword search (especially as more people have become comfortable with keyword searching). However, Powerset keeps generating lots of attention and hype, and on Thursday apparently revealed a lot more concerning what it's about... we think. That is, the company revealed a lot, but an awful lot of it comes off as simply repeating every buzzword they can think of and reminding everyone they have patents.

It's always a signal to be worried if a company kicks off a description of its product by bragging about its patents rather than the actual benefits of its product, but Powerset kicked off the discussion by talking about how "locked down" its patents are. If the company is really doing something special, then people will beat a path to its door, whether or not it has patents. If the technology is useless, the patents will also be meaningless. We don't care about the patents, we care about what's useful. The rest of the talk apparently was about this incredibly confusing buzzword-fest of a social network/ecosystem that the company is apparently trying to build around its search engine:
"Imagine a mashup between Facebook, Digg and Google Apps, but you get to participate in the building of the products that sit on top of our platform. You log into a social network, like you would Facebook, and you get certified to be a Powerlabber. Once certified you can join different interest groups, such as travel, and participate in idea and mashup competitions. QA is embedded and its all bloggable."
What does that mean? I've read it many times and I still can't figure it out. He goes on to mention MySpace, Second Life and Wikipedia, of course. It sounds like the company is trying to build the ultimate web platform -- which is a good strategy, but it needs to get away from buzzwords and patents and actually explain what makes it useful.
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  1. identicon
    Charlie, 29 Jun 2007 @ 7:18pm

    Re: Clarification

    I made a post on my blog (http://artificialminds.blogspot.com/2007/06/how-would-nlp-parse-buzzwords.html) where I pretty much agreed with Mike on the buzzwords and patent threats. Mark Johnson left a similar comment on my blog as well, trying to point out that the statements being criticized are about Powerlabs, the community they're trying to build around the development of Powerset. So all of the mashup buzzword medley has to do with their effort to add some Web 2.0-ness to the project...getting users involved early, soliciting feedback, etc. The presentation might have been a bit off, but it could be a good idea nevertheless, and hopefully they'll have the technology to back up their lofty claims.

    I signed up for Powerlabs to find out more about their work, as I'm very interested in Natural Language Processing. According to Mark Johnson's blog (http://deliberateambiguity.typepad.com/blog/2007/06/powerlabs_scree.html), it looks like it won't be opening up until September, but I did receive an e-mail from Mark with a link to this short video, which sums up what's been discussed so far: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8D6czWVYc-o

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