Powerset previews search engine seen as threat to Google, Yahoo

In a newly-opened online showcase, search engine specialist Powerset is now previewing a contextual search engine seen by some as a possible threat to Google, Yahoo and other major players through its support for "conversational phrasing."

Although right now, Powerset queries Wikipedia only, rumors are circulating that investment bank Allen & Co. is shopping the emerging natural language search engine to potential buyers that might even include Microsoft, which decided to drop its recent attempt to take over Yahoo.

Unlike the search engines of Web sites like Google, Yahoo, and Ask.com, for example, Powerset does not rely on keyword searches.

Instead, users submit their queries as questions that don't necessarily need to include keywords. Like traditional search engines the results are returned as URL links, often accompanied by pieces of text from the linked pages.

With the Powerset search engine, however, the answer is often included directly within the search results. Users can expand the result to see the full text with pertinent sentences highlighted.

To get a better understanding of how the natural language engine works, BetaNews today typed in the question, "Where is the Chesapeake Bay?"

In response to our query, Powerset came up with what seems like a decent answer directly within the first of the more than 2.600 links provided. Here is the Wikpedia text included in the first answer in Powerset's response to the query:

"The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States. ... The north end of the oligohaline zone is north Baltimore and the south end is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge."

But the accuracy of results obviously varies according to the query, especially with Wikipedia being the only source for the time being. And when we asked Powerset to give us a definition of the oligohaline zone, we were simply told it contains "very little salt."

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