Microsoft buys semantic search startup Powerset

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

Redmond (WA) – Following the failed merger with Yahoo, Microsoft is buying what many consider to be the hottest property in the search market today – a company that could replace Google search one day: Powerset is developing a more intelligent form of web search called semantic search: The technology not only indexes web pages, but applies additional algorithms to parse each information piece and extract its possible meaning to yield more relevant search results than what we are seeing today.     

The semantic web, sometimes also referred to as Web 3.0, is widely considered to become the next evolution of the Internet. Compared to today’s Internet or even Web 2.0 applications, the semantic web is expected to become much more intelligent and is all about all about connecting information from various sources and creating meaningful relations between different pieces of online information. As much as Web 2.0 is about collaborating and sharing information online (such as in social networks), Web 3.0 (a term that is highly debated at this time) is commonly described as a way of transferring the Web into a huge database and bringing an understanding to the vast amount of information online.

Microsoft is the first major company to make the jump into semantic web technology by buying Powerset, whose technology we described extensively in a previous article, for an undisclosed amount. Microsoft said that the Powerset team will join Microsoft’s core Search Relevance team and contribute “natural language technology that nicely complements other natural language processing technologies […] in Microsoft Research.”

Microsoft senior vice president Satya Nadella wrote on the Live Team Blog:

“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.”

The Powerset team will keep its offices in San Francisco and Microsoft said that it is interested in hiring more search engineers in San Francisco.