Powerset joins Live Search

We’re excited to announce that we’ve reached an agreement to acquire Powerset, a San Francisco-based search and natural language company.

Powerset will join our core Search Relevance team, remaining intact in San Francisco. Powerset brings with it natural language technology that nicely complements other natural language processing technologies we have in Microsoft Research.

More importantly, Powerset brings to Live Search a set of talented engineers and computational linguists in downtown San Francisco. This is a great team with a wide range of experience from other search engines and research organizations like PARC (formerly Xerox PARC).

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.

That shared vision is to take Search to the next level by adding understanding of the intent and meaning behind the words in searches and webpages.

We know today that roughly a third of searches don’t get answered on the first search and first click. Usually searchers find the information they want eventually, but that often requires multiple searches or clicks on multiple search results. Two specific problems are the most common reasons for this:

  • Differences in phrasing or context between a user’s search and the way the same information is expressed on webpages. Search engines don’t understand today that “shrub” and “tree” are similar concepts. We don’t understand that “cancer” sometimes refers to a disease and sometimes refers to a horoscope and when a query or a webpage refers to which.
  • Lack of clarity in the descriptions for each webpage in the search results. Sometimes a result looks relevant from its short description on the results page but turns out to be not so relevant when you visit the actual page. As a result, searchers frequently click results and then rapidly click back when they realize they aren’t what they’re looking for.

These problems exist because search engines today primarily match words in a search to words on a webpage. We can solve these problems by working to understand the intent behind each search and the concepts and meaning embedded in a webpage. Doing so, we can innovate in the quality of the search results, in the flexibility with which searchers can phrase their queries, and in the search user experience. We will use knowledge extracted from webpages to improve the result descriptions and provide new tools to help customers search better.

Working with our existing Search team and other Microsoft teams that focus on natural language, Powerset will help us address all of those problems and opportunities.

We’re looking to add even more talented engineers to the San Francisco team to accelerate our shared progress. If you’re interested in joining the team, drop us a line.

We’ll have more to say about the things we’re doing in understanding searches and webpages through natural language technology in the coming months. In the meantime, please join me in welcoming Powerset to Microsoft!

Satya Nadella, Senior Vice President, Search, Portal, and Advertising

See also: Microsoft to acquire Powerset

Join the conversation

  1. Anonymous


    Looking forward to see great results! 😉

    Best regards,

    Darren Lee


  2. Anonymous

    You guys still dont get it?  People dont use Google because it finds the best results, nor will they switch if Live.com provides better results…

  3. Anonymous

    Great acquisition – I can’t wait for Powersets tecnology to be integrated into Live Search.

  4. Anonymous

    Kudos!  I think this is the best acquisition decision you’ve made.  Very happy to see this happen.

  5. Anonymous

    Looking forward to seeing what comes out of this. In 5 years. After the game has changed.

  6. Anonymous

    Investing in search technology is good, but just part of the equation.  I recently attended a Salesforce.com event, which left me thinking that search is last year’s fight.  Is Microsoft thinking about cloud computing?

    Between Java, Open Source, Eclipse, Ruby on Rails, Ajax, Google’s many APIs, I’m afraid that Microsoft is losing developer mind share — this is the real battle, ie, keeping innovative ISVs/developers interested in your platform.  All those technologies have zero startup costs vs subscribing to MSDN.  Perhaps Microsoft should make C# and .NET and Visual Studio free?

    If you just want search tech, what about buying Teoma (see The Google Story pages 125-126)?

  7. Anonymous

    Please please please, push this into Sql Server 😀

  8. Anonymous

    this will now die a slow death (it would have anyway)

  9. Anonymous

    I hope PowerSet will continue to push the boundaries of search. I know Microsoft will put a lot of money behind this, it only remains to be seen whether money is enough to create a great search engine, or whether brand is important as well (i.e. Google)

    Well, all the best. You’ve got a tough job, but there’s certainly a chance!

  10. Anonymous

    Why the heck doesn’t Microsoft buy the best search engine on the planet — I’m referring, of course, to Autonomy — http://www.autonomy.com — and quit dicking around with little startups like this one, the also-ran POS second-rate companies like Yahoo!, not to mention the "gag me before I dieon my own vomit" acquisition of the nearly-dead Norwegigan company FAST they bought earlier this year?  

    Hey, Steve B.! If you’re listening, please stop horsing around and buy Autonomy, OK?  Maybe they’d throw in blinkx.com for a couple ‘bill.

    Microsoft doesn’t have the fire in its belly, it seems.


    Irritated MSFT shareholder

  11. Anonymous

    Good purchase.  Wouldnt’ Microsoft benefit from a purchase of yahoo for $29-31 per share.  Imagine the benefits – pocket the costs savings and synergies – market the crap out of that combined search share – all new assets shared on msn and yahoo – all news from the same cost center – extraordinary platform – cloud computing – I think a yahoo acquisition would be the real game changer in search against Google

  12. Anonymous

    Congratulations! Good purchase

  13. Anonymous

    Guess goes to show you that money and intelligence continue to prove not going hand and hand.

  14. Anonymous

    Please to SQL Server fulltext search, and support Japanese.

    And, I found a bug in Live Search.

    If search ‘allinurl’ , result is blank !.

  15. Anonymous

    Kudos.  This one makes complete sense!  Anxious to watch the integration

  16. Anonymous

    Maybe with PowerSet, I’ll be able to find all those books previously available on the Live Book Search because I sure cannot find them now. Until I’m able to find those books, I have no reason to use your search engine.

  17. Anonymous

    Wow, what a great move to search area :) It could be a leapfrog to MS :) Congrats to MS Live Search team and Powerset team.

  18. Anonymous

    I wood like two bee able two share what iam looking four with my windows live messager conntacts.

  19. Anonymous

    et bien, c un bon pas pour microsoft, et encore plus facile qu’avec yahoo.

  20. Anonymous

    should look at chunkit then all search users become microsoft search users overnight

  21. Anonymous

    why does MSN have this stupid looking smiley’s? I mean can’t u guys do any better?

  22. Anonymous

    A rumored $100M+ to acquire ~53 people, so that their IQ can be combined with that of people in Microsoft’s Research group???  Yikes.

    Sounds like this is a long way from being put in SQL Server as requested by several others.

  23. Anonymous

    no idea, why Microsoft did that! powerset doesnt look very powerfull.

  24. Anonymous

    Goodluck with the integration.

  25. Anonymous

    Im excited to see the good things to come!

  26. Anonymous

    Congratulations! A great move to search area.

  27. Anonymous

    Good purchase. Congratulations!

  28. Anonymous

    Goodluck with the integration, I hope it will be used wisely.

  29. Anonymous

    I am happy to hear that the deal is finalized, which means Powerset did get the amount of money they’ve asked for, more than 100 mill previously offered by MS.

    I am happy to hear that neither Y! nor Google managed to get such a talent pool and codebase of proven technology, plus licenses and patents. Microsoft already has the wealth of information stored in Encarta’s databases, and Powerset is a great way to explore it. If you ask me, I would keep connections with Wikipedia and FreeBase, because these projects are in many people’s hearts (think about community support).

    I would also keep the Powerset brand within Live Search. It could be use to describe a type of search. Unlike the generic term "Advanced Search", you could use {} Powerset search as a descriptive term for aggregated search results from selectable sources.


  30. Anonymous


    I don’t know much about this stuff, but I am just wondering how much the average Powerset employee will get from the $100M. They have around 60 people working there I hear.

    Does anybody have any ideas?


  31. Anonymous

    So another $100 M invested in search. This is above the $1.2 B acquisition of Fast from Norway. Can you also go out on a limb and inform the shareholders that when do you plan to recover all the money being spent on search? With the billions of $$ being spent in MS research what is there to show for all that money being spent. Instead of just announcing the next acquisition it is time that senior management talks about their plans of what they plan to do with the acquisition and then after the time period is over then come back to the forum and explain the progress. I think it is time that MS senior management is held accountable for its actions.

  32. Anonymous

    Congratulations!  Looking forward to seeing the great things that happen next!


  33. Anonymous

    ben ali  0535  411  74  32


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