Powerset seeks help online for natural search

Startup Powerset opened up an online lab for its natural-language search technology.

Powerset, a startup building a search engine that understands ideas rather than just words, has opened an online lab to tap into the brainpower of a limited number of humans.

Powerset's search technology reads all the sentences on a Web page and extracts the meaning of each one. As a result, it should give better results than a traditional word-based search engine, according to the company. At the TechCrunch conference in San Francisco on Monday, the company opened Powerset Labs to its first group of users, who will give feedback on its natural language engine and product design.

The search engine is based on technology licensed from the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) as well as internal development, Powerset said in a blog entry on its Web site Monday. It will be launched next year.

In the meantime, the company is letting the public work with it and share and vote on ideas for making the product better. They won't be able to use Powerset's search across the Web but can see demonstrations. The company plans to admit people in the order they signed up but expand it slowly to ensure a good user experience. People can sign up on Powerset's Web site and new members will be admitted in waves.

One of the demonstrations, called Powermouse, will let users browse the "facts" stored in Powerset's search index after entering a query. Queries in Powermouse can be more complex than just words, letting people find other things that are related to the original subject in a certain way. In an example provided by Powerset, a search found references to people or things that wrestler Hulk Hogan had defeated.

The other demonstration available now to lab members, called Use Cases, lets people ask questions of the search index in natural language. Users can tell Powerset which results that it returns are good and also vote on the quality of results. Participants in Powerset Labs will also submit ideas, comment on them and vote on the best ideas, the company said.

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