Powerset: Worthy Of The Hype?

Whew, I haven’t posted in months.  Sorry, I was doing my nails, and I had a tricky hangnail situation so it just took ages.

So, Google.  You’ve heard of them, right?  Apparently they make a dollar or two here and there by selling ads alongside search results.  And anything that makes a dollar or two is going to spawn a host of other businesses looking to carve off a little pie for themselves.  The past couple of years have seen a brave army of search engines trying to capture just a little bit of that Googly magic for themselves; here, for example, is a list of over 40 social search engines.  There are image search engines, people search engines, and capturing a lot of late-breaking buzz, natural language search engines.  In particular, tech reporters across the country have been getting a tingly feeling in their special places over the premier of Powerset, a search engine that promises to truly understand what a web page is about and thus to find answers to queries quicker.  The site they have just premiered indexes Wikipedia only as a way to showcase their user experience; more in-depth indexing is to follow.

So is this the company that will lure the searching public away from Google and spawn the next set of millionaires?  That all depends on if it truly offers a different and better result.  As you’ll see from the link above, lots of people have tried Powerset out and reported back.  I personally like to test new engines with questions that Google has either performed really well or really poorly on in the past, so I gave it a try on a few phrases of my own, comparing Powerset, Google, and a site search of Wikipedia:

1) Which god gets his liver eaten out each night?

Powerset returns a reference to the correct answer in one below-the-fold result.  Google returns a correct answer in 3 of the top 5 results.  Wikipedia nails it in the second result, meaning that for some reason Powerset wasn’t able to correctly grok the results of the only data source it looked at.  Google was the winner here.

2) My friends and I were trying to recall if there was an earthquake in Manhattan around the time of 9/11.  So which search method does best on “New York City Earthquake”?

Neither Wikipedia nor Powerset had anything helpful at all to offer here.  Google nailed it in both its first and second results.  So once again, Google was the winner.

3) On a cross country road trip you start to see the same names over and over.  Search engines, can you reveal the “most popular town name in america”?

Wikipedia offered nothing at all for that search term.  Powerset offered nothing useful.  Google’s #5 listing points to an article on, interestingly, Wikipedia, called “list of the most common US place names”.  Google, you clever bandit!  You win again!  (It’s Franklin, which pleases me, as he has always been my favorite Founding Father.)

So my own experience with Powerset does not have me excited yet.  It wasn’t as effective as Google in returning the information I wanted, even when that info was actually on Wikipedia.  Wiki’s own site search didn’t do as well either.  So for now I’m going to stick with Google when Very Important Questions such as these arise.

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Microsoft Gets All Hostile On Yahoo!

Normally I am opposed to including the exclamation mark on the end of “Yahoo!”; I hate punctuation in company names and I just refuse to acknowledge it. Do you hear me Beverages, And More!? However news of Microsoft’s hostile takeover bid for Yahoo! this morning caused such a collective plotz here in Silicon Valley that I ran to stand in the doorway of my bedroom, thinking the Big One had hit. It’s worthy of gratuitous punctuation, is what I’m saying.

Microsoft’s offer is at a 62% premium over Yahoo!’s current stock price, and given Yahoo!’s seeming determination to screw the pooch I think if I were a Yahoo! stock holder I’d be saying, “Helllooooo, Master Bill! Come give me your filthy filthy!”

This development will be discussed extensively by all the usual suspects, so I won’t belabor it any further. Yahoo!

Remember When We All Used Yahoo?

It is hard to remember in these Googly days that there was a time not so long ago when the boys from Yahoo were all anyone wanted to talk about. The search engines were fighting it out for share, and I actually selected Alta Vista as my preferred engine based on its spectacular results for the query “god that gets liver eaten out each night.” However, that was a pretty crazy and edgy choice, because Yahoo clearly dominated the Internet. Yahoo was the complete and utter shiz, and Yahoo would rule the world 4EVA.

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Yahoo, MSN Continue Share Slide

The search engine ratings are in from the various services, and although absolute shares change wildly depending on the service, the trend is similar for all: Google is gaining ground while Yahoo and MSN are leaking air like a birthday balloon. This also doesn’t include traffic the engines get from their content networks, which is an important percentage of expenditure; I haven’t seen ratings for that, but my sense is that Google’s traffic of *quality* sites (as opposed to mis-typed domains that go to Agoga.com) is much higher than Yahoo’s.