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
    Venture Itch, 29 Jun 2007 @ 11:42pm

    Natural languge search

    You made a very good point "people have become comfortable with keyword searching". I would even say that people have been comfortable with keyword searching all the way. I'm not sure that natural languge search as behaivoral phonomenon exists on web. It's much easier and natural to run search "florist Boston" than "what florist would you recommend in Boston"? I hope Powerset team has enough common sense to figure out what direction to take. If natural language search is the only option, probably the best course of action is just to return capital to investors.

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