Forsaking Yahoo, Microsoft <3 Powerset

It's IT Blogwatch: in which Microsoft is to acquire Powerset, to beef up its search engine. Not to mention how not to make a PC less noisy...

Elizabeth Montalbano reports:

Microsoft Corp. and Powerset Inc. today confirmed a deal in which Microsoft will purchase the search-engine start-up ... the Powerset team will become part of Microsoft's Search Relevance unit and remain in the start-up's San Francisco offices. Powerset has 63 employees ... Powerset is pioneering semantic search, a technology ... attempts to extract meaning from search queries and Web pages rather than simply matching them up with relevant links based on keywords or previous or related searches ... [It] creates a semantic representation of Web pages by parsing each sentence and extracting its meaning ... Microsoft plans to integrate Powerset's technology with some of its own natural-language technology, which has been in development in Microsoft Research ... Microsoft has been looking for ways to bolster its search strategy, and it needed an alternative to purchasing Yahoo Inc. when that deal fell through. more
Cade Metz adds:
Powerset's natural language processing technologies made their public debut in early May, when the company unveiled a semantic search engine just for Wikipedia. With semantic search we're talking about more than just indexing keywords. A semantic search engine does its darnedest to index what those words mean. And in much the same way, it seeks to grasp the meaning behind your queries, hoping to pinpoint exactly what you're seeking. But the Wikipedia engine - which indexes about 2.5 million pages - is just a proof of concept. Like Microsoft, Powerset wants to bring semantic search to the entire web. Thus the tie-up. Powerset has plenty of confidence in its technical talents, but it wants Microsoft's money. more
Powerset's Mark Johnson is all excited. Bless:
Powerset has always been a small company with big dreams, with the ultimate goal of changing the way humans interact with computers through language ... With any startup, the challenge is to take the seeds of an idea and grow it into a viable company ... building a large-scale semantic search engine is expensive, requiring an engineering effort and computing resources beyond what most start-ups could ever imagine ... So few start-ups ever tackle such deep, scientific problems successfully and create the kind of value we’ve delivered in such short order. more
And Microsoft's Satya Nadella also invokes the obligatory 'E' word:
We're excited to announce that we've reached an agreement to acquire Powerset ... first and foremost because we're impressed with the people there. Powerset CTO and cofounder Barney Pell is a visionary and incredible evangelist. When he introduced our senior engineers to some of the most senior people at Powerset — Search engineers and computational linguists like Tim Converse, Chad Walters, Scott Prevost, Lorenzo Thione, and Ron Kaplan — we came away impressed by their smarts, their experience, their passion for search, and a shared vision. more
But Owen Thomas offers this translation:

Calling someone a "visionary" and "evangelist" is code for "lacking any real skills." Note how Pell gets credit only for introducing the real brains of Powerset's operations, not for "smarts" or "experience" ... this deftly coded Pell-dissing blog post makes me think someone up in Redmond has a few neurons firing in the right sequence ... [He] may not last long after the deal. more
Pell tells his story to Michael Arrington:
Three years ago I was an Entrepreneur in residence at Mayfield, a venture capital firm. And I was looking at what was going to be the future of search ... I could see that there was going to be a huge amount of computing power becoming available over time, and that a lot of the work in AI and in particular natural language, was sort of nearing the time where it was going to be commercially ready, and these two trends would be converging just as search was becoming the center of our interactions with computers and tapping into all the information that is out there on the internet ... a perfect storm. more
But Stephen E. Arnold's not impressed:
Semantic technology may help Microsoft with certain narrow functions. But applying the Powerset technology across the 12 billion Web pages that Microsoft says it has indexed will take some clever engineering. Semantic technology has to operate on the source content and figure out what the heck the user means. Google uses short cuts even though it has some serious semantic brainpower at the Googleplex. It is not just technology; it is plumbing that can be scaled economically and operated with tight cost controls. Microsoft has money, but I am not sure it has enough time. The Google keeps lumbering forward. Microsoft has to find a way to jump over Google and take the high ground. Catching up won’t work. more
Neither is Alexander Vanelsas:
I doubt knowledge can be indexed or queried automatically ... It can only be found in people. I suspect that having a unique expertise, experience, or a deep knowledge, will become a very valuable asset in this future of instant access ... few [startups] actually make it and become successful. Not because they didn’t have access to the necessary information. But mostly because they lack the knowledge and experience needed to become a successful business. That is why you should start a new venture with people first. It’s the people that make a business successful ... we haven’t found an effective way to access people with knowledge or expertise yet. Sure there is stuff like LinkedIn, or aggregation sites like Friendfeed. But these services can’t really answer the question “who is an expert in the field of…”. And that might just become one of the most important questions in the near future. more
Samuel Dean notes the ironic open-source angle:
Powerset’s search technology uses the open-source, cluster-based technology Hadoop, which provides fast answers to queries by using the resources of many computers ... Natural language search got a bad rap early on in the rise of the web as players such as AskJeeves stumbled, but clustered query technology like Hadoop’s may represent a game-changer. Microsoft, of course, has been desperately trying to catch up in search, where it is a distant third to Google and Yahoo. It won’t be surprising to see large portions of Microsoft’s LiveSearch start to depend on Powerset, and in so doing, depend on open-source upstart Hadoop. more
And finally...

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Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/adviser/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 21 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You can follow him on Twitter, pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use boring old email: blogwatch@richi.co.uk.

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