Human beings are funny. If you’re the underdog, the plucky startup going head-to-head with a big player, people will root for you regardless of whether you have a hope in hell of actually succeeding — but as soon as you become the dominant player, they will dump you in a heartbeat and start rooting for the next underdog. Google knows this better than anyone. Not that long ago they were the one getting all the cheers, and now we are all looking at companies like Powerset as the next potential “Google killer.”
For a company that doesn’t even have a real product yet, Powerset continues to get a surprising amount of publicity, including the story in the New York Times and a long feature at VentureBeat about the company’s licensing of natural-language search technology from Xerox’s legendary PARC research centre. Mike Arrington goes so far as to call Matt Marshall of VentureBeat a “cheerleader” for the company, which got $12.5-million in venture financing last year (contingent on the licensing of Xerox’s technology, according to Matt). He also points to a long treatise on natural language search that Danny Sullivan wrote here, which is worth reading.
Is Powerset the next big thing in search? Perhaps. But right now, it seems like a straw man dressed up in hopes and dreams, sent in to battle the now seemingly invincible Google. My friend Paul Kedrosky seems similarly skeptical of Powerset’s chances.