Microsoft's search plan: It's about semantics and possibly for naught

Microsoft's search plan: It's about semantics and possibly for naught

Summary: Microsoft's search plan apparently revolves around semantics. The software giant picked up Powerset, a natural language search provider for an undisclosed sum.

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TOPICS: Microsoft, Google
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Microsoft's search plan apparently revolves around semantics. The software giant picked up Powerset, a natural language search provider for an undisclosed sum.

Will it be enough to close its yawning Google (and even Yahoo) search gap? Probably not, but Powerset could give Microsoft a little leapfrog ability (Techmeme). And boy could Microsoft use some leapfrog love in search.

Rumors about Powerset's exit strategy have been percolating for weeks and given Microsoft's standing in search the deal seems like a no-brainer. Whatever Microsoft paid it doesn't even register as a rounding error in the P&L.

According to Microsoft's Satya Nadella, senior vice president of search, portal and advertising, Powerset's team remains in tact and will add to the natural language technologies Microsoft Research has been cooking up.

In many respects, the acquisition is a talent grab and Powerset is happy to oblige. Nadella writes:

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.

Makes sense. It sure beats plastering "we're hiring search folks" ads all over the Web.

Also see: Powerset’s search: Does it deliver?

Taking Powerset for a spin

Microsoft's big point is that search needs to evolve so queries get answered on the first click. For that to happen you need some natural language love. Nadella says "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."

Sound familiar? You bet. That's the same "intent" spiel that Google and Yahoo use every quarter, every presentation and every press conference about search.

Simply put, Microsoft gets some talent to throw at closing its search gap. And there's something to be said for that. However, Microsoft can reinvent search, but it's still running up a natural Google monopoly. The analogy here is Windows: Microsoft didn't have the best operating system on the planet. It just had the best positioned one. In search, the tables are turned in Google's favor. I don't see how Powerset will change that equation.

Topics: Microsoft, Google

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33 comments
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  • Still, it is VERY easy to change your search provider, or even try the

    other one out. With the OS, it is an entirely different story.
    DonnieBoy
    • Wow! I'm agreeing with you for the second time!

      I admit I was skeptical at first, but I tried out the [url=http://www.powerset.com/]company's search service[/url] which works against Wikipedia, and it does look promising. If the company's search services holds up against the entire web like it does against Wikipedia, it appears Google will have cause to sweat. MS could launch a persistent PR campaign against Google with its service (much like what Apple is successfully doing against MS for PC market) and eat away Google?s market share.
      P. Douglas
      • There's a glass ceiling called mankind

        that is not going to allow an abusive monopoly with shoddy products and scant customer respect to extend across all of computing.

        It's what they get for being such a disgusting company.
        fr0thy2
        • Hate makes fools of us all.

          Mister, I read the message you have to agree too before MS software will run. I don't have a warm and cozy feeling about them but if you think their products don't work or are shoddy you need to think again. Office didn't take the brass ring by being either and I still like IE better than any other browser bar none.

          I have used a couple of other browsers and I do have linux running on one machine. I do like open office and firefox works but they aren't better so for as I can see. The mac OS isn't either.

          If for any reason what so ever you are happier using one of the other OSs do it. They can certainly get the job done but don't bother to tell me they are better and that I will be more productive. At best they just do the same thing a slightly different way.

          Due purely to lack of market share the none Windoze OSs are less likely to be attacked. The bad news is it does look like hostile hackers are starting to at least look at the mac OS.
          deowll
        • You know fr0thy2.....

          for someone who has regularly posted insulting remarks against other nations and those not of your race, you are the last SMFA to be suggesting anyone or anything is disgusting. <br>
          <br>
          btw, seeing your many assaults on America and your misguided view of the world, before you talk about MS in terms of the U.S. and vice versa, you might realize your own nation has a higher percentage of Windows users than the U.S. <br><br>
          hmmmm....following your logic, well it's enough to start laughing hysterically over. <br>
          <br>
          Finally, it seems you must have been in a long sleep when the fat lady sang.
          xuniL_z
    • Other than you being overly obvious here, I totally disagree

      Well there is the licensing which is designed to build even further lock-in to the hardware. But in the computing world of business, let's not even include OS X, it's not a player. <br><br>
      So it might take a bit longer time-wise, and I'd even argue that, but it's a very simple thing to test drive many linux distros. <br>
      With a high speed internet connection, a few minutes and you are trying out a new OS. <br><br>
      It's also a very easy thing to then install them permanently, either as a second OS or to replace Windows. The cost of Windows on a preloaded machine is not enough to worry about the money, if the other OS is really truely superior. <br><br>
      xuniL_z
      • "The cost of Windows on a preloaded machine is not enough to worry about"

        It's something that it's high time the competition regulators worried about. In no other industry do you get forced to pay for product X to just throw it away and use product Y.

        Plus Microsoft are creating generations of mouse wielding monkeys with which you hope to fight in the knowledge economy. Now THAT should be worrying ......
        fr0thy2
        • MS costs money and **ix is

          Free and **ix has made little inroad to MS's base. Does that not make you think that users prefer Windows to **ix?

          Maybe people prefer using a mouse, that certainly does not make them a monkey.

          Frothy2, your hatred of MS has made you into a one trick pony and you seem to get the idea you have superior knowledge over everyone else. I have a headline for you, you are not superior to anyone.

          Another question, why do you resent someone, or a company making money? Is there something wrong with free enterprise? If MS is so bad, create a better OS and market it. As the old saying goes, "build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door". I know you are going to say that there is a superior OS. I would reply that the vast majority do not agree with you.
          High Plains
        • You are inaccurate on both counts......

          First off, my comment was literal, it didn't suggest it was right. I'm saying since that is the case, here's what you can do *right now*.
          <br><br>
          But i disagree with you. Exclusvie agreements are everywhere man. I just spent a week at a hotel and a kid's amusement park and they only sold PEPSI!!! ahhhhhh!!! It was against the rules to bring your own food and drink.<br>
          I was jonesin' SO bad for coke by the end of that day in the amusement park. It is much better than pepsi and sets better with my pain medication. Seems to even intensify it and make it work better. ;) <br><br>
          Apple uses OSX exclusively on their hardware. <b>
          MS built the OEMs that use Windows, so why shouldn't they honor those agreements? It's business man. Look, i'll say it again, if Linux were seen by the MARKET as something that would sell you'd see VCs pumping money into building new Linux distros the world over. Nowhere on the face of this earth do you see any OEM building up around Linux. Why, it doesn't appeal to the market, that's it. It would stand a better chance by closing the code and advertising it and introducing it to the people. The market has made some room for linux at OEMs like HP and Dell, but why would expect them to sell naked PCs or have a larger Linux line?? Why? They are For-Profit companies. And they are competing with OEMs starting to finally comeback in the EU, and guess what OS is standard on those machines? So if companies, even inside the EU, are selling majority windows machines, it's a market problem. <br><br>
          Now your fight is against capitalism itself, NOT Microsoft.
          xuniL_z
    • Tire Patches

      In this era of tubeless tires we have a company who is still in the business of putting patches on a rotting inner tube.
      There IS a limit to the number of tire patches you can put on the tube before it must be replaced, and MS is just getting that clue. Too bad that they don?t have anyone who knows how to manufacture tubeless tires.
      JohnMinn
  • RE: Huh?!?!

    "Will it be enough to close its yawning Google (and even Yahoo) search gap?" What gap? The MS search gives me everything Google's does! I detect no perceptible difference. Haven't used Yahoo in over 6 years, so no comment there.

    Incidental -- of the three serious malware infections I've ever had (and Avast didn't catch), one was the first link on a Google search and one was attached to a (popular) YouTube video. Google isn't my favorite people.
    Mr_Wizard
    • I guess you could use some semantic search

      It's where the computer tells you what you really meant.

      It'll never be a success. Anybody with a brain can direct a search engine to the correct results.

      Search Term : "We shall never surrender"
      Results :
      "Microsoft re-ignites bid for Yahoo"
      "Mugabe declares election victory"
      "Dell offers Linux pre-installed"
      fr0thy2
      • On the other hand....

        the search term "we will always surrender" should return "France". ;)
        xuniL_z
    • "What gap? The MS search gives me everything Google's does!"

      Well good for you, but totally irrelevant. The "gap" isn't about what results YOU get from your particular search. It's about who is using what.
      bmerc
      • I take it you advertise

        MS search is useless for the consumer. It's easier for advertisers to get a higher rank, but unless the consumer gets what they want, which is rarely the case with Live, then they leave disappointed. Google has the right focus and that's why they are a clear winner.
        myztry
  • RE: Microsoft's search plan: It's about semantics and possibly for naught

    Larry, great story on Powerset, thank you very much!
    It???s interesting that all search players are still confined to various ways of interpreting exact definitions. Powerset uses a sophisticated natural language parser (licensed from Xerox PARC) to find subjects, verbs, objects, synonyms, and other elements for indexing. It means that the solution still relies on exact definitions (keywords).
    Such products can be really powerful, if they are coupled with solutions that do not rely on keywords at all.
    One of them is Brainware???s Globalbrain (recently found by Redmond magazine to be superior to Google and Microsoft desktop search offerings). It differs from many other search products on the market in that it does not make use of keyword search.
    Rather, it is using a patented n-gram approach. When indexing a word, the word is parsed into three parts and then a vector is created. For example, the word sample would be parsed as sam, amp, mpl, etc. According to Brainware, this three-letter snippet approach makes the search engine language independent.
    The capability provided by Brainware lets users search, not simply on key words, but on whole paragraphs.
    Here???s a case study showing Brainware in action:
    Fulbright & Jaworski: Leading Law Firm Searches And Shares Knowledge Base Smarter, More Accurately
    http://www.brainware.com/brain_case_lawfirm.php
    yegor.kuznetsov@...
  • RE: Microsoft's search plan: It's about semantics and possibly for naught

    If you have ever used Autonomys IDOL or Ultraseek for search you will never change.. mayby when MS morph FAST into the MOSS plattform.
    /Jan
    sy97jgu
  • Autonomy rules, even by Gartner "forgot the headline"

    If you have ever used Autonomys IDOL or Ultraseek for search you will never change.. mayby when MS morph FAST into the MOSS plattform.
    /Jan
    sy97jgu
  • Nothing could make me use a Microsoft search engine.

    Nothing could make me use a Microsoft search engine as my primary search engine. I think I will always prefer a search provider not tied to Microsoft or IE. Especially since Google has exceled at email over Microsoft. It's ability to keep email in conversations has gained my respect. I always view Google as the company that has "got it going on!" Another company may someday overtake them, but it won't be Microsoft. There name is too synonymous with system issues and monopolies for me.
    scoobydoozie
  • RE: Microsoft's search plan: It's about semantics and possibly for naught

    Well...you didn't get beat up tooooo badly...So time to see how badley MJF gets beat up today....Have a good 4th boys and girls...
    Sleep well...puppadave
    puppadave