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Suppose you wanted to find every sentence in Wikipedia where Steve Jobs reportedly said something about the iPod. Pretty easy, right? You’re a pretty good searcher, so you pull up your favorite search engine and type in Steve Jobs iPod site:en.wikipedia.org.
OK. Maybe half the results are useful, but others, including the top three, are clearly off the mark. So then you try Steve Jobs said iPod
Hmm, not much better. The first result is clearly not what you wanted. The second result might be valuable (Steve Jobs said something), but you can’t really tell because of the ellipsis. Did he really say something about the iPod? Again, maybe half of the results are directly relevant, but you’ve got to click some links to tell for sure. And you’re not even sure you’ve captured all the different ways “saying” something can be expressed. Luckily, Google has a feature that lets you search alternative sets of words. Since you’re an advanced user, you type in a more complex query: Steve Jobs said OR mentioned OR claimed iPod site:en.wikipedia.org. Same problems. Google doesn’t seem to understand that it’s important that Steve Jobs did the saying, and the thing he said something about was the iPod. So it’s a good thing Google allows wildcard search that let’s you specify the order of the words. Using this knowledge, you try yet another query: ”Steve Jobs said * iPod” OR “Steve Jobs mentioned * iPod” OR “Steve Jobs claimed * iPod” site:en.wikipedia.org. That should do the trick. What? No results. This is starting to get a little frustrating. Time to return to daydreaming about that new iPhone you plan to buy. Now suppose you had Powerset instead of Google or Yahoo. Powerset analyzes your query for its meaning, and then looks for sentences in its index that have similar meaning. You decide to give it a shot and try a query a normal person might understand: **What did Steve Jobs say about the iPod?**
Whew! That sure was easier than playing the keyword guessing game. Powerset searched all pages in Wikipedia where Steve Jobs is saying, stating, telling, mentioning, claiming, announcing, etc. something about the iPod. The trick isn’t just knowing that “mentioning” and “saying” can mean the same thing, it’s also knowing that in given sentence, Steve Jobs is doing the saying, and the thing he’s saying something about is the iPod. This is possible because Powerset matches the structure and meaning of your query with the structure and meaning of every sentence and document in the index, and then returns those passages that truly match your intent.
This is one illustration of the power of natural language search. With Powerset you often end up with the information you want. With keyword search you often end up with a new research project.
-Scott Prevost, PhD, Director of Product
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