Powerset Blog

Microsoft to Acquire Powerset 36

Posted by Mark Johnson Tue, 01 Jul 2008 18:05:00 GMT

We’re excited to announce officially that Microsoft has signed an agreement to acquire Powerset.

Powerset has always been a small company with big dreams, with the ultimate goal of changing the way humans interact with computers through language. We set out to improve search by indexing Web pages based on the meaning expressed in them rather than just the literal words. Powerset licensed breakthrough technology from PARC, hired world-renowned computational linguists and search engineers, and recently released a search and discovery experience for Wikipedia articles. Our technology helps to improve search results and also makes new features possible, such as Factz, which aggregates information from many articles to summarize a topic.

With any startup, the challenge is to take the seeds of an idea and grow it into a viable company. At Powerset, we transformed our idea into a world-class semantic search platform, demonstrating the future of search with our Wikipedia search experience. But building a large-scale semantic search engine is expensive, requiring an engineering effort and computing resources beyond what most start-ups could ever imagine. Because our goals around improving search align so well, Powerset has decided to team up with Microsoft. We believe that this is the fastest way to bring our technology to market at a large scale. 

Microsoft shares our goal to improve search through deeper analysis of queries and documents, and understands that our technology and expertise will play a key role in the evolution of search. With an existing search infrastructure, incredible capital resources, unlimited data, a leading search team, and clear mission to revolutionize the search landscape, Microsoft can rapidly accelerate our progress in building semantic search technology and bringing it to full Web scale.   When we launched our first product, we heard: this is great, but when and how will we get Powerset to go beyond Wikpiedia?  Microsoft accelerates our ability to move Powerset to the entire Web faster than anyone could have imagined.

Powerset will continue to operate much as we currently do, working in the same building, with the same organizational structure, and with the same uniquely talented and growing team (apply on our jobs page). We’ll continue to tackle the hardest problems in parsing, semantics, ranking, indexing, scalable computing, user experience and all of our other specialties. But now we’ll do it with the support of Microsoft and the vast resources of the entire Live Search team. 

Over the past couple of years Powerset has made amazing progress. Starting with just a big idea, we licensed the best linguistic technology, recruited a top-notch team, built out our datacenter, engineered a world-class semantic search platform, tackled deep natural language issues, improved relevance, innovated an interface and launched a great product.  So few start-ups ever tackle such deep, scientific problems successfully and create the kind of value we’ve delivered in such short order.

For now, Powerset.com will continue to host our Wikipedia Search & Discovery and we’ll be continuing to experiment with our product, based on user feedback. But, expect many announcements from us in the coming months about how we’re integrating our technology and features into Live Search.

As always, if you’re a member of the press and would like to speak to someone from Powerset, please contact us at press@powerset.com.


Leave a comment

  1. Jordan Fowler about 1 hour later:

    Congratulations guys! This is excellent news. I’m not surprised by your success, with your fantastic team of mustache-rocking engineers!

    I am curious how an acquisition team (like at Microsoft) arrives at a value for acquisition. There have been some articles with the $100M figure, so I’m curious how this works. In social network land, it’s generally a perceived value of ad revenue per-user.

  2. http://joshdilworth.com about 1 hour later:

    Congrats, Mark, to you and the team!

  3. Satish Mummadi about 1 hour later:

    Congratulations !!! excellent news!

  4. Andrew Mager about 1 hour later:

    Congrats :)

  5. Andra┼ż Tori about 2 hours later:

    Congratulations, great for you and for the rest of the semantic/NL people and companies!

  6. Tom about 2 hours later:

    Congrats, nice way to improve your search technology. Hopefully you will not ignore the european market and create some diversity overthere to overtake the google dominance (95%+).

    Question though, what happens with all your investments in opensource? You still have listed a “Ruby generalist” position, there will be little future in such position if you look at what Microsoft did to their other aquisitions (migration to windows).

  7. David Cherin about 2 hours later:

    Barney Pell – congratulations! I’m really happy for you.

  8. Hashim Warren about 2 hours later:

    This is good for the Internet. We need a different, ambitious, well funded approach to search.

  9. Jan Paricka about 3 hours later:


  10. Vincent about 3 hours later:

    Oh boy, Microsoft. Ah well, I suppose I’ll be open-minded: congrats :)

    Just hope you won’t use the dirty tactics Microsoft is often keen to use. Live Search really doesn’t deserve the, what, third spot among search engines?

  11. Daniel about 3 hours later:

    Congrats for being bought by assholes.

  12. Aviva about 4 hours later:

    From the Microsoft blog: “Barney Pell is a visionary and incredible evangelist.” Congratulations; can you stop saying “no comment” now??

  13. Naveen Ashish about 4 hours later:

    Barney: congratulations to you and your team, semantics in search is overdue.

  14. George about 4 hours later:

    Congratulations to you all. I’ve been impressed by your Wikipedia search, and I am truly looking forward to using your product as my primary search tool. Microsoft and Powerset is a partnership that makes a ton of sense, and I am sure that the combination will benefit the internet and have a great impact on the way we search.

  15. Chris about 4 hours later:

    Congratulations! You guys are at the leading edge and it’ll be interesting to watch this get integrated into Live Search. This makes a lot more sense than the billions of dollars that Microsoft was going to spend on Yahoo! ;)

  16. sam.materazzi@gmail.com about 5 hours later:

    it’s usually $1m per engineer hired

  17. Aaron Shim about 5 hours later:

    Congrats & best of luck.

    Does this mean there will not be a Google Powerset Gadget? :)


  18. Truman Hedding about 6 hours later:

    Congrats!!!!What an excited time for your team. It will be interesting 5 years down the road to look back at how we searched now and hopefully your technology will have changed the way we did things.

  19. Victor about 6 hours later:

    Wow, the dot-com bubble is back. People can make millions of dollars by coming up with some totally impractical (but cool sounding) approach to search.

    I think it’s about time to start a new company and write some perl scripts!

  20. Bernadette Balla about 6 hours later:

    Congrats to the team! Congrats Barney pell and luke nosek!

  21. PowersetisGarbage about 7 hours later:

    Another pointless acquisition by M$..Powerset is just a hype nothing more.

  22. David about 10 hours later:

    Please, please keep the Powerset name - Live Search is possibly the worst name ever - only Microsoft could think up such an awful name. Anyhow, keep up the good work and hopefully Microsoft and Powerset can develop a few world class search engines.

  23. Leslie & Milo Dumke about 21 hours later:

    congratulations to CHAD and his amazing team!

  24. Supervisor OS about 22 hours later:

    Since, Bill Grate is now retired, so, the new Microsoft controller is doing mad work.

  25. Steven Sanderson, spsanderson@gmail.com steve-thelifeof.blogspot.com 1 day later:

    Congratulations on the acquisition now you have access to appropriate funds to carry what you are doing best. Although I am no fan of MSFT, I do think if they let you run fairly independent then you will continue to produce amazing results.

    Best of luck to you!!!

  26. http://mathew.jacb.wordpress.com 1 day later:


  27. Samantha 1 day later:

    Microsoft is infamous for buying good technology and burying it. Powerset leadership obviously did not have that much faith in their own potential if they are willing to sell for a paltry $100 million. I am very saddened by this news. Powerset looked promising. Now they are just another drone within the Borg Collective which is Microsoft. Thanks for selling a bit of the future cheap to the evil empire guys. Some of you got rich in this deal but all of your hopeful observers and would be future customers just got poorer.

  28. I wish you all the best 1 day later:

    Congratulations dear Powersetters! http://www.it-co.biz/cms/news.php?item.1738

  29. Obi wan kanobe 2 days later:

    Beware of the Dark Side

  30. Someone 2 days later:

    Samantha, powerset took VC money. If someone comes along and offers a 10x return on that investment then odds are it will be sold.

  31. "Ardith" from Firefly 4 days later:

    Congratulations! I hope you will indeed get the chance to continue your own vision. When I hear about companies being bought by Microsoft, it reminds me of the lack of vision Microsoft showed when they purchased firefly.com for the security software behind it (which became Pasport) and shut down what may have been the first-ever social networking site.

  32. Dan 4 days later:

    If it’s any indication of the future, blogs.msdn.com was down when I checked the announcement. At least you’ll be able to move off Amazon’s amazingly plodding cloud of servers (seriously, Powerset’s search performance was damn slow), but porting the java to MSFT’s platform may be a dead-end. My guess: they’ll pick the algorithms that they care about and implement them in their own system, tossing out the rest of Powerset’s infrastructure. And employees…

    But at least you’ll all have a nice check in your hands to leave with. And kudos to Lorenzo for making (presumably) a killing on his first venture out.

  33. Brian 7 days later:

    Congratulations POWERSET….. you now can take your technology to market!

  34. PJ Gupta 7 days later:

    Congratulations!! Technology and scalability both need to be proved but MSFT must believe it can take it to the next level. Interesting move - have a potential long term alternative to google. I’m assuming key members of the team will stay on retainer for a while ? Also it may seem like a quick flip but those who know you will know that you had been at this for atleast couple of years before you got the stellar angel round ? Good Luck!

  35. Brian 8 days later:

    Can I lead the marketing development for a new search engine?

    A search engine portal that will take MS search to the top!

  36. Abhijith 8 days later:

    Great to hear this news. I think many people were expecting Microsoft may end up acquiring www.powerset.com Things went as expected. Congrats :)

    Thnx Abhijith