Powerset (company)

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Type Privately held
Founded San Francisco, U.S. (2005)
Headquarters San Francisco, California, U.S.
Parent Microsoft (as of August 1, 2008)
Website www.powerset.com

Powerset is a company based in San Francisco, California that is developing a natural language search engine for the Internet.[1]

Powerset is working on building a natural language search engine that can find targeted answers to user questions (as opposed to keyword based search). For example, when confronted with a question like "Which U.S. 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.

Currently, the company is in the process of "building a natural language search engine that reads and understands every sentence on the Web."[2] The company has licensed natural language technology from PARC, the former Xerox Palo Alto Research Center.[3]

On May 11, 2008, the company unveiled a tool for searching a fixed subset of Wikipedia using conversational phrases rather than keywords.[4]

On July 1, 2008, Microsoft signed an agreement to acquire Powerset.[5]



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."[6] Said The New York Times: "[Powerset Labs] 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."[7]

Powerlabs' initial search results are taken from Wikipedia.[8]


Barney Pell

Barney Pell (born March 18, 1968 in Hollywood, California)[9] is 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 Ph.D. in computer science from Cambridge University in 1993, where he was a Marshall Scholar.[10] He has worked at NASA, as chief strategist and vice president of business development at StockMaster.com (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.[11]

Lorenzo Thione

Lorenzo Thione (born in Como, Italy) is the product architect and co-founder of Powerset. Prior to joining Powerset, he worked at PARC in natural language processing and related research fields. Thione earned his master's degree in software engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.[11]

Ronald Kaplan

Ronald Kaplan, former manager of research in Natural Language Theory and Technology at PARC, serves as the company's CSO.[12]


Powerset has attracted a wide range of investors, many of whom have considerable experience in the venture capital field.[13] The company received $12.5 million in Series A funding during November 2007, co-led by the venture capital firms Foundation Capital and The Founders Fund.[14][15]

Among the better known investors:


  1. Helft, Miguel (2007-01-01). "In Silicon Valley, the Race Is On to Trump Google". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/01/technology/01search.html?ex=1168232400&en=ad47077c00fe61f4&ei=5099&partner=TOPIXNEWS. 
  2. "Powerset Blog: Powerset launches Powerset Labs at TechCrunch40". http://blog.powerset.com/2007/9/17/powerset-launches-powerset-labs-at-techcrunch40. Retrieved 2008-03-04. 
  3. Helft, Miguel (2007-02-09). "In a Search Refinement, a Chance to Rival Google". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/09/technology/09license.html?_r=1&oref=slogin. 
  4. http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/technology/tech-powerset.html?_r=1&oref=slogin[dead link]
  5. Powerset Blog : Microsoft to Acquire Powerset
  6. Hof, Robert (2007-09-17). "Powerset: Move Over, Google". Business Week. http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/sep2007/tc20070917_676790.htm?chan=top+news_top+news+index_businessweek+exclusives. 
  7. Helft, Miguel (2007-09-17). "Powerset to Skeptics: Try Us". The New York Times. http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/09/17/powerset-to-skeptics-try-us/. 
  8. "Power is turned on, a bit, at Powerset". SFgate.com (San Francisco Chronicle). 2007-09-17. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/sfgate/detail?blogid=19&entry_id=20341. 
  9. "Barney Pell's Personal History". http://ic.arc.nasa.gov/projects/Executive/team/barney/history.html. Retrieved 2008-02-16. 
  10. "Barney Pell's Weblog". http://www.barneypell.com/. Retrieved 2008-02-16. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Powerset Founders". http://www.powerset.com/team. Retrieved 2008-02-16. 
  12. Powerset press release, 2007-03-17
  13. Powerset press release, 2006-11-02
  14. Powerset press release, November 2007
  15. PARC press release, 2007

External links


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