Natural Language Engineering


Industry Watch*


a1 Centre for Language Technology, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia

A year ago in this column I wondered aloud whether 2007 was to be the year in which question-answering (QA) really took off in the commercial space. I was provoked to ask that question by the increasing number of Web-based QA systems that were portraying themselves as the Next Thing in search for the masses. There was, in particular, a lot of buzz around the $12.5 million funding deal announced by Powerset. The San Francisco-based company had gained exclusive access to parsing technology from PARC, but hadn't at that point displayed any of its wares to the general public. However, the company was inviting people to sign up for access to Powerset Labs, where, we were told, we would get the opportunity to be the first to play with the technology and to provide feedback to make it better. Since then, there have been occasional screen images of the application seen in blog posts and other news items, and a small number of claimed sightings by bloggers who were granted privileged access. But Powerset Labs was finally launched at TechCrunch 40 in mid-September. The company's Web site says that they've begun to let people have access to the technology, and that they'll be ‘letting in the next wave of users as soon as possible’. My surf board is ready, but I'm not holding my breath. I signed up in June 2007, and haven't heard a thing since. Comments posted on the Powerset site suggest that there might be quite a few in the line before me.

(Received October 20 2007)


* Industry Watch is a semi-regular column that looks at commercial applications of natural language technology. The author can be contacted at