Powerset has been in somewhat of a stealth mode since last year, with only bits and pieces of information about the "natural language" search engine showing up on blogs and tech Web sites. At yesterday's TechCrunch40 Conference, the startup officially unveiled Powerset Labs -- an online community aimed at culling tester feedback and developer insight to help build and improve the search engine before it goes public next year.
The goal of natural search is to make the act of searching online easier by letting users ask questions as they would when speaking naturally. So instead of "Google acquisitions 2007," a user can enter "what companies did Google acquire in 2007?" -- and end up with richer, more relevant results. In the words of Barney Pell, Powerset's chief executive: "Our system reads every single sentence in every single document and extracts meaning from them." This lengthy piece by Robert Hof discusses the user interface and features of Powerset Labs, as well as the tech behind natural search.