Jul 2, 2008 113 reads by Navneet Kaushal

Last week I had reported about some speculations that Microsoft had reached an acquisition deal with the semantic search engine 'Powerset'. Now, that speculation has turned into reality and according to Live Search Blog , Microsoft has acquired Powerset.

Here is What Microsoft had to say about the Acquisition:

"We're excited to announce that we've reached an agreement to acquire Powerset, a San Francisco-based search and natural language company.

Powerset will join our core Search Relevance team, remaining intact in San Francisco. Powerset brings with it natural language technology that nicely complements other natural language processing technologies we have in Microsoft Research.

More importantly, Powerset brings to Live Search a set of talented engineers and computational linguists in downtown San Francisco. This is a great team with a wide range of experience from other search engines and research organizations like PARC (formerly Xerox PARC).

We're buying 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.

That shared vision is to take Search to the next level by adding understanding of the intent and meaning behind the words in searches and webpages.

We know today that roughly a third of searches don't get answered on the first search and first click. Usually searchers find the information they want eventually, but that often requires multiple searches or clicks on multiple search results. Two specific problems are the most common reasons for this:

  • Differences in phrasing or context between a user's search and the way the same information is expressed on webpages. Search engines don't understand today that "shrub" and "tree" are similar concepts. We don't understand that "cancer" sometimes refers to a disease and sometimes refers to a horoscope and when a query or a webpage refers to which.
  • Lack of clarity in the descriptions for each webpage in the search results. Sometimes a result looks relevant from its short description on the results page but turns out to be not so relevant when you visit the actual page. As a result, searchers frequently click results and then rapidly click back when they realize they aren't what they're looking for.

These problems exist because search engines today primarily match words in a search to words on a webpage. We can solve these problems by working to understand the intent behind each search and the concepts and meaning embedded in a webpage. Doing so, we can innovate in the quality of the search results, in the flexibility with which searchers can phrase their queries, and in the search user experience. We will use knowledge extracted from webpages to improve the result descriptions and provide new tools to help customers search better.

Working with our existing Search team and other Microsoft teams that focus on natural language, Powerset will help us address all of those problems and opportunities.

We're looking to add even more talented engineers to the San Francisco team to accelerate our shared progress. If you're interested in joining the team, drop us a line.

We'll have more to say about the things we're doing in understanding searches and webpages through natural language technology in the coming months. In the meantime, please join me in welcoming Powerset to Microsoft!”

Over at the Powerset Blog, Powerset has also shared its view on now being tied with Microsoft:

“With any startup, the challenge is to take the seeds of an idea and grow it into a viable company. At Powerset, we transformed our idea into a world-class semantic search platform, demonstrating the future of search with our Wikipedia search experience. But building a large-scale semantic search engine is expensive, requiring an engineering effort and computing resources beyond what most start-ups could ever imagine. Because our goals around improving search align so well, Powerset has decided to team up with Microsoft. We believe that this is the fastest way to bring our technology to market at a large scale.

Microsoft shares our goal to improve search through deeper analysis of queries and documents, and understands that our technology and expertise will play a key role in the evolution of search. With an existing search infrastructure, incredible capital resources, unlimited data, a leading search team, and clear mission to revolutionize the search landscape, Microsoft can rapidly accelerate our progress in building semantic search technology and bringing it to full Web scale. When we launched our first product, we heard: this is great, but when and how will we get Powerset to go beyond Wikpiedia? Microsoft accelerates our ability to move Powerset to the entire Web faster than anyone could have imagined.

Powerset will continue to operate much as we currently do, working in the same building, with the same organizational structure, and with the same uniquely talented and growing team. We’ll continue to tackle the hardest problems in parsing, semantics, ranking, indexing, scalable computing, user experience and all of our other specialties. But now we’ll do it with the support of Microsoft and the vast resources of the entire Live Search team.”

Well, finally the beast gets its appetite. The question here is that, “what will Microsoft do with Powerset?” If, Microsoft is thinking of reaching out and gaining the lost ground in the field of online search, then its going to take a lot of work and improvement to even come close. Else, this acquisition would be just another addition to Microsoft's long list of buy-outs with no further visible advantage.

Navneet Kaushal

Navneet Kaushal

Navneet Kaushal is the founder and CEO of PageTraffic, an SEO Agency in India with offices in Chicago, Mumbai and London. A leading search strategist, Navneet helps clients maintain an edge in search engines and the online media. Navneet's expertise has established PageTraffic as one of the most awarded and successful search marketing agencies.
Navneet Kaushal
Navneet Kaushal
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