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June 29, 2007


Emre Sokullu

Hi Don, you may want to check out this post (http://tinyurl.com/3y4r34) of Aydin Senkut (an investor in Powerset) - as I commented there, **I think** the problem in this business is far from being computational. At hakia, we have an efficient way of indexing (we call it - qdexing) meaning data. You may want to see hakia Labs (http://labs.hakia.com/) for a demo. But power of masses is a good approach indeed, I always advocate supporting complex algorithms with human input.

David Scott Lewis

Powerset might beat Google. And you work for Microsoft. Hmmm ...

Are you admitting that Live Search doesn't matter, that it's all about Google?

Or, should we be expecting a Microsoft acquisition of Powerset?

Don Dodge

Mr. Lewis, You jump to all sorts of conclusions...all of them wrong.

Live Search definitely matters. It has 10% market share which is worth about $10 Billion in market cap...that matters.

Powerset, and every other search startup, has their eyes set on beating Google. Beating Google in this sense means taking a couple points of market share away from Google. It doesn't mean becoming the number 1 search engine and driving Google to zero.

Do you really think that I would be writing about Powerset on my blog if Microsoft was about to acquire the company?

You got one thing right, I do work for Microsoft, which I clearly highlight in the headline and my bio.

Farhan Lalji

Interesting post. Both from a search perspective and from a business perspective. Going for small marketshare that's worth a lot as a primary objective is sometyhing I'm not sold on. Think you have to aim for the moon to land amongst the stars.

The iPhone I think is a perfect example, although Jobs et al seem to be setting expectations at a "measly" 10% you know that the aim has to be to dominate the market.

Think Powerset needs to have a similar aim to really be successful. Aim for the best product, the best search and to dominate the market and forget about small percentages - no matter how much financial success comes with the small slice.


I can't understand all this hype about this powerset search engine that noone ever used and for which nobody so something else that 2 or 3 screenshots.
I am not saying Powerset/Hakia approach is wrong, on the contrary, but this is too much hype for not much yet.

Especially, if PARC who gave away their technology to Powerset had the killer app, wouldn't they have done something with it beforehand?


Anyway, great to read your analysis Don in general.

David Lewis

Gee whiz, I thought you were going to use the "ballplayer" example to show how fundamentally difficult, if not impossible, the "understanding" problem is.

The fact is, in the US and many other cultures, to sports watchers -- that is, anyone who would ask that question -- "ballplayer" absolutely, unambiguously, unquestionably means "BASEBALL player", not basketball player, not football player, cetainly not soccer player. Likewise, let's play ball", let's have a ballgame and others alse unambiguously mean baseball. But "let's toss a ball around" could mean a football or basketball, though there is probably a tilt toward a baseball. But actually, it also depends on the weather, the venue (indoors or outdoors, in a gym, on a court, on a grassy field), and probably other factors.

"Ballplayer" and th other terms may may mean something else in other cultures, or nothing at all. So it's really an example of the ~limitations~ of semantic analysis of just the query, apart from the context. You need to code that specific word, AND you need to know the cultural background of the person who asked the question, and indeed, the actual, of-the-moment context.


Any time someone tells me about a search engine to beat Google I just say, What's the query? and type it into Google. I suggest you do that with "Who is the best ballplayer of all time?" Next question, please.

Lloyd Budd

I don't really understand the open source angle to this article. "Empowering of the open source community"?

The reality is that Google and its employees are top contributers to open source, and in their own words Powersets proposed solution is fundamentally proprietary. Although like Google, there are specific projects that open source participants can get excited about, the actual product isn't one of them.

Alan Daniels

This is a great read! I heard about Powerset, but knew nothing about it until now. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

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