As rumoured last week, Microsoft has acquired Powerset, a much-hyped semantic search engine startup. No official word on deal price, but it’s rumoured to be about $100 million. Why would Microsoft bet on Powerset? More from Peter Kafka’s June 26 piece:
What are semantic search engines, and why does Silicon Valley love them? Semantic search, or “natural language” search, is supposed to divine searchers’ intentions more accurately than today’s standard offerings — which means Google. And creating a search engine that works better than Google would have obvious benefits for whoever figures it out. Hence Hakia, Twine, etc.
We’ve been sceptical about the ability of semantic search to deliver results that are significantly better than Google’s, and think that Google does a very fine job of figuring out what we’re looking for. But we had previously assigned a value of $80 million to Powerset, predicated primarily on the idea that someone who wanted to take on Google would find the company attractive. Now that looks like a reasonable hunch.
From Microsoft’s announcement:
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 organisations 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.