Amid speculation that Microsoft is looking to make an acquisition, Powerset launched a public beta of its Wikipedia search engine. It brings a new, rich semantic dimension via natural language query processing to Wikipedia that greatly improves the search and reading experience.
The company calls it a first step in changing the way users search and consume Web content. "It's a complete shift. You see this and you want to experience all content in this way," Barney Pell, co-founder and CTO of Powerset, told me. "And, as an introduction, it will drive huge investment in semantic and linguistic technology, just as investments were made in information retrieval and scalable databases in the past. People working in this space will be very marketable."
Powerset's natural language search technology is based on patents licensed exclusively from PARC and its own proprietary indexing. Powerset's engine has read 2.5 million Wikipedia pages and extracted "meaning" from the sentences, creating a navigation and semantic layer on top of the popular Web encyclopedia. Following is a pictorial tour of Powerset features:
Powerset's Wikipedia search engine isn't going to slow down the Google in the near term, but it will raise the bar on the search experience for all players. "There are implications beyond Wikipedia," Pell said. " Search is not done. You can see the emerging Semantic Web with our integration of Wikipedia and Freebase. We will add other components with structured data and ways to answers questions."
Powerset has said that the longer term plan is to read, linguistically analyze and index 20 billion documents on the Web, which will be a costly and ambitious undertaking. (Getting acquired by Microsoft would be helpful for that project. Powerset has received $12.5 million in Series A funding from Foundation Capital, Founders Fund, and angel investors in 2006.)