Color me a Powerset Skeptic

While it’s nice to see people not treating Google as inviolable, color me a natural-language search skeptic. Leaving aside how insanely difficult that problem is, and leaving aside that people who know the Parc technology that Powerset has licensed say it is as error-prone as you would imagine, I’m still not convinced we would know better search when we see it.

Why? Because the situations where search could be most improved are when we don’t know what we want. If we want specific stuff, like Tiger Woods world golf ranking, or the population of Bolivia, or even a Powerpoint presentation mentioning my name, Google does great. Where is falls down is where all search must fall down: Interpreting the messiness of our own brains, and our own inability to articulate what we really want.

[Update] Fellow curmudgeon Danny Sullivan has a great rant on the subject here.


  1. That fact that no one gives really good usage scenarios for natural language search tells you how ridiculous the concept is. I mean why type “what is the capital of burundi” when you know you’ll get the right answer typing “capital burundi” into Google. (it’s Bujumbura btw).

  2. …now here’s something that actually will impact Google in a very big way…and hey, Paul, believe it or not, it’ll even tell us what we want and need (and qualify for)…without us having to articulate it:
    As promising as their natural language platform sounds, the greatest threat to Google’s growing hegemony in the search/paid search arenas…given that about 1/2 of all searches are known to be for products and services…may actually spring from patent pending (#11/250,908) paid match, which will target people’s actual demographic and psychographic traits and characteristics (keytraits) instead of just the words we all type into little search boxes.
    Though paid match is not yet an operating system, our own US Dept of Labor does run a very popular service (over 500,000 users/month) which provides an enlightening and instructive peak at the potential that such a paid match search/ad platform possesses.
    Called GovBenefits (available at, it utilizes a personal profile and a match engine to determine what government benefit programs people qualify for.
    Were such a system populated with the 100’s of thousands to millions of products and services companies provide nation/worldwide instead of just the 400-odd government programs it includes now, one can only imagine what its public popularity would be…
    …and with the world’s advertisers having the ability to pinpoint target and control; via bidding directly on those keytraits most relevant and applicable to their products and services, exactly who sees their ads (goodbye click fraud); one can also only imagine the deleterious effects that such an elegant and superior system/platform would have on a 95% PPC income dependent company like Google…

  3. holy crap is that steve morsa of infamous techcrunch fame? the sanctimonious spewing moralizer? sweet.