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This is your mind on media.

Musings on the effects of media on cognition.

Introducing Powerset

Despite the fact that “Semantic Web” has been trending down (at least in Google searches), it seems like more web sites devoted to it are popping up these days. I’ve been messing around with Twine for a fews weeks now and it seems pretty useful, although it definitely can’t accomplish what they claim. 1 A new one that I stumbled into, via KurzweilAI.net is Powerset. My 30 second review is that I tried searches on two pretty obscure subjects that I’ve been reading about lately, the St. Petersburg factor2 and kriegsspiel. Basically, I got the same search results at wikipedia, powerset and google—no immediately discernible differences.

A few nice things do stand out about Powerset. The ajaxy integration of content into the search results page is definitely a step up from Google’s fairly wimpy page snippets. This feature alone would make it much easier to peruse results for accuracy and usefulness.3 I’m also impressed with the fact that Powerset appears to be gathering data from Freebase—an important open source database of information that’s a fundamental step towards creating a semantic web.

But if you ask Google and Powerset the question, “What is math?” you get pretty different answers. Google says:

a science (or group of related sciences) dealing with the logic of quantity and shape and arrangement

Powerset says:

MATH is an American Improv/experimental band formed in Woodstock, New York in the mid 90s.

While this may be true, I don’t think it wins the semantic claims any points. True enough, if you ask “What is mathematics?” you get a better answer. But shouldn’t a search engine claiming semantic abilities understand synonyms? Apparently, not yet. But I’ll definitely keep using Powerset and report back as I understand more.


  1. In short, they claim that it can be a replacement for Del.icio.us and your blog and most things social. They don’t apparently understand some important rules about personalization in this regard. 

  2. Weirdly, no one, including Google, had any information about this, which seriously makes me question its existence, since I’ve only seen one reference in a book so far! I’ll definitely have to post about it later. 

  3. This reminds me, I really wish someone would create a feature that would allow you to eliminate search results from repeated searches. Like, let me save a search and then slowly cull it down to what I think are the relevant results. The data from those individuals who did the culling would surely be useful to the search engines. 

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