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. icon
    Mike (profile), 29 Jun 2007 @ 9:42am

    Re: Powerset does have some secret sauce

    I agree that all the hype and buzzwords make it hard to sort out what is going on at Powerset, but there is some secret sauce. I have spent a lot of time with the founders of Powerset and know several employees very well.

    I don't doubt that there's some secret sauce in there as well, I just think that the benefit needs to be more clearly laid out... because right now, all they've basically laid out is "this thing is awesome! we've got patents, and buzzword, buzzword, buzzword."

    They haven't yet said why I'd want to use it.


    However, take a quick look at this query. "Who is the best ballplayer of all time?" Powerset breaks this query down very carefully using linguistic ontologies and all sorts of proprietary rules. For example, they know that "ballplayer" can mean Sports. Sports can be separated into categories that involve a "Ball". Things like baseball, basketball, soccer, and football. Note that soccer does not include the word ball, yet Powerset knows this is a sport that includes a ball. Powerset knows that "ballplayer" can mean an individual player of a sport that includes a ball. They know that "best of all time" means history, not time in the clock sense.


    That's cool, technically speaking... but how useful is it? How often do people need to do a search for "the best ballplayer of all time"?

    Also, I just did a Google search on that phrase, and it actually turns up pretty good responses (especially for a somewhat subjective question).

    So, what's the *benefit* of Powerset... I understand it has cool technology, but where's the user benefit?

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