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Powerset (company)

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Powerset was an American company based in San Francisco, California, that, in 2006, was developing a natural language search engine for the Internet On July 1, 2008, Powerset was acquired by Microsoft for an estimated $100 million

Powerset was working on building a natural language search engine that could find targeted answers to user questions as opposed to keyword based search For example, when confronted with a question like "Which US state has the highest income tax", conventional search engines ignore the question phrasing and instead do a search on the keywords "state", "highest", "income", and "tax" Powerset on the other hand, attempts to use natural language processing to understand the nature of the question and return pages containing the answer

The company was in the process of "building a natural language search engine that reads and understands every sentence on the Web" The company has licensed natural language technology from PARC, the former Xerox Palo Alto Research Center

On May 11, 2008, the company unveiled a tool for searching a fixed subset of English Wikipedia using conversational phrases rather than keywords


  • 1 Powerlabs
  • 2 People
  • 3 Investors
  • 4 See also
  • 5 References
  • 6 External links


In a form of beta testing, Powerset opened an online community called Powerlabs on September 17, 2007 Business Week said: "The company hopes the site will marshal thousands of people to help build and improve its search engine before it goes public next year" Said The New York Times: " goes far beyond the 'alpha' or 'beta' testing involved in most software projects, when users put a new product through rigorous testing to find its flaws Powerset doesn’t have a product yet, but rather a collection of promising natural language technologies, which are the fruit of years of research at Xerox PARC"

Powerlabs' initial search results are taken from Wikipedia


Barney Pell born March 18, 1968, in Hollywood, California is co-founder and CTO of Powerset Pell received his bachelor of science degree in symbolic systems from Stanford University in 1989, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa and was a National Merit Scholar Pell received a PhD in computer science from Cambridge University in 1993, where he was a Marshall Scholar He has worked at NASA, as chief strategist and vice president of business development at StockMastercom acquired by Red Herring in March, 2000 and at Whizbang! Labs Prior to joining Powerset, Pell was an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Mayfield Fund, a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley Pell is also a founder of Moon Express, Inc, a US company awarded a $10M commercial lunar contract by NASA and a competitor in the Google Lunar X PRIZE

Steve Newcomb was the COO and co-founder of Powerset Prior to joining Powerset, he was a co-founder of Loudfire, General Manager at Promptu, and was on the board of directors at Jaxtr He left Powerset in October 2007 to form Virgance, a social startup incubator

Lorenzo Thione born in Como, Italy was the product architect and co-founder of Powerset Prior to joining Powerset, he worked at FXPAL in natural language processing and related research fields Thione earned his master's degree in software engineering from the University of Texas at Austin

Ronald Kaplan, former manager of research in Natural Language Theory and Technology at PARC, served as the company's CTO and CSO

Ryan Ferrier is a member of the founding team of Powerset He managed personnel and internal operations After 2008 he went on to co-found Serious Business, which made Facebook applications and was later bought by Zynga

Another Powerset alumnus, Alex Le, became CTO of Serious Business and went on to become an executive producer at Zynga when it bought the company Siqi Chen founded a stealth startup in mobile computing after leaving Powerset


Powerset attracted a wide range of investors, many of whom had considerable experience in the venture capital field The company received $125 million in Series A funding during November 2007, co-led by the venture capital firms Foundation Capital and The Founders Fund

Among the better-known investors:

  • Esther Dyson, founding chairman of ICANN, founder of the newsletter Release 10 and editor at Cnet
  • Peter Thiel, founder and former CEO of PayPal
  • Luke Nosek, founder of PayPal
  • Reid Hoffman, executive vice president of PayPal and founder of LinkedIn
  • First Round Capital, seed-stage venture firm

See also

  • Bing search engine


  1. ^ Helft, Miguel 2007-01-01 "In Silicon Valley, the Race Is On to Trump Google" The New York Times 
  2. ^ Powerset Blog : Microsoft to Acquire Powerset Archived July 2, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "Powerset Blog: Powerset launches Powerset Labs at TechCrunch40" Archived from the original on October 30, 2007 Retrieved 2008-03-04 
  4. ^ Helft, Miguel 2007-02-09 "In a Search Refinement, a Chance to Rival Google" The New York Times 
  5. ^ Powerset Debuts With Search of Wikipedia - NYTimescom Bitsblogsnytimescom Retrieved on 2013-07-21
  6. ^ Hof, Robert 2007-09-17 "Powerset: Move Over, Google" Business Week 
  7. ^ Helft, Miguel 2007-09-17 "Powerset to Skeptics: Try Us" The New York Times 
  8. ^ Kopytoff, Verne 2007-09-17 "Power is turned on, a bit, at Powerset" SFgatecom San Francisco Chronicle 
  9. ^ "Barney Pell's Personal History" Archived from the original on October 14, 2006 Retrieved 2008-02-16 
  10. ^ "Barney Pell's Weblog" Retrieved 2008-02-16 
  11. ^ a b c "Powerset Founders" Archived from the original on 2007-10-27 Retrieved 2008-02-16 
  12. ^ "MoonEx aims to scour moon for rare materials" Los Angeles Times 2011-04-08 Retrieved 2011-04-10 MoonEx's machines are designed to look for materials that are scarce on Earth but found in everything from a Toyota Prius car battery to guidance systems on cruise missiles The company is among several teams hoping to someday win the Google Lunar X Prize competition, a $30-million race to the moon in which a privately-funded team must successfully place a robot on the moon's surface and have it explore at least 1/3 of a mile It also must transmit high definition video and images back to Earth before 2016 should be ready to land on the lunar surface by 2013 
  13. ^ Powerset press release, 2007-03-17 Archived October 28, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Robin Wauters 2010-02-11 "Zynga Buys Social Gaming Startup Serious Business" Retrieved 2013-04-12 
  15. ^ Powerset press release, 2006-11-02 Archived April 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Powerset press release, November 2007 Archived April 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ PARC press release, 2007 Archived May 12, 2008, at the Wayback Machine

External links

  • Powerset main web site - redirects to Bing

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