Powerset Launches Semantic Wikipedia Search to Public

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“Finally, something!” are the cheers in Silicon Valley this morning. Powerset, the mega-hyped underdog Google killer semantic play, has finally launched a working demo of its product. While the search engine has been in closed beta for some quite now, this is the first time it has unveiled any of its technology to the public.

What is being unveiled is essentially a search engine based on top of Wikipedia. Allowing you to enter a topic, phrase or question, Powerset uses its semantic algorithm to dig through the keywords and come up with the best matches — or better still, answers — based on the Wikipedia articles. While this is in no way a final product, the demo is supposed to show the glimpse of its algorithm on a test index.

Trying to differentiate from their suggested examples, I tried a few queries, and I am no less than impressed. The first query I tried was “who is Andy Kaufman.” Rightly enough, Powerset was able to extract a mini-bio from Wikipedia, structurally providing a brief description, date of birth, date of date, profession, film roles, etc. What I was more impressed was their ‘factz’ section where key facts are analyzed and put into context. While not totally accurate, I was able to find out names of the characters he portrayed among other things.

The second query I tried was, simply, “Iron Man.” To my surprise, a special character/name supplement was presented again, and this time with more detail. Among the tabs included “Iron Man,” “Film,” “Video Game,” “Song,” “Magazine,” “TV Series,” and “Band,” presumably all taken from Wikipedia’s disambiguations. Going through, I was able to get a good idea of each, although in brief snippets.

For my final query, I decided to try something a little more obscure. This time, my query was “who invented the computer mouse?“. Rightly enough, the first result was Douglas Engelbart’s Wikipedia page, with (in highlighted text) “He is best known for inventing the computer mouse”. All over the results, his name was repeated again and again, too, and tied closely with “invented” and “computer mouse,” so I could be sure it was him just by glancing.

I’ll admit, Powerset’s first display isn’t a bad one. It does the trick, and definitely defeats Wikipedia’s own search in a heartbeat (but then again, that’s not hard to do.) For the general queries, especially those which you’d expect to have a Wikipedia page, the results are more than average, O.K. for slightly obscure ones, and kind of clueless for the more obscure ones. It does not bad for a search engine that has been in stealth mode for 2 years, but certainly, we’ll need more to judge. I’m waiting for more the Google killer till it gets a pass for the hype its received. Oh, and I swear if I hear the word semantic again, I’ll …


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