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Relevance Rules: Q&A With Powerset GM Scott Prevost

By Blake Glenn E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
Nov 12, 2008 4:00 AM PT

The Internet search market is dominated by Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft Live Search. However, there are also a range of niche players that focus on areas such as travel and health.

Relevance Rules: Q&A With Powerset GM Scott Prevost

Those observations, according to Scott Prevost, General Manager of Powerset, a semantic-based search engine company headquartered in San Francisco.

Powerset now operates as a subsidiary of Microsoft after recently being acquired for about US$100 million.

Prevost joined us to provide an inside peek into the competitive world of search engines.

Listen to the podcast. (17:52 minutes)

Shifting Model

When it comes to search revenue streams, Prevost believes that ads will continue to dominate for some time. However, the ad model could change as search moves to other devices.

Prevost also believes that mobile devices will offer entirely new ways of interacting that will significantly impact the search industry.

Semantic search technology helps a search engine determine what users intend when typing in their search terms and offers significant opportunities for growth in the market, Prevost said.

True Meaning

In the near future, semantic technology will become the dominant player in text-based searching, he predicts.

The video search sector is growing as well, he said. However, users need the ability to search within video content to make it more useful.

Here are some excerpts of the interview:

E-Commerce Times: Can you give the listeners an overall feel for what the current status of what the search engine industry looks like right now?

Scott Prevost: Of course there are the big players -- Google, Yahoo and Live -- but I think what surprised me when I got into this business a few years ago is how many companies there were that are trying to make a difference, and Powerset is certainly one of those companies, and in particular Powerset falls into a class of companies that's working on semantic search. Some of the other companies that are trying to do that are Hakia and Cognition, a few other smaller companies. But certainly the market is dominated today by the big players in terms of market share.

ECT: In terms of revenue streams, obviously you always hear about advertising as a big revenue stream in search. Are there other revenue streams that we don't hear about as much that are important or growing for search engines?

SP: Well, certainly advertising is the one where everyone has focused on, and certainly Google has made many, many inroads. But I think as we move onto other devices, onto mobile devices, the whole ad model could change significantly. And as we start to see new technologies that are better at matching the user's intent to the advertisers, I think we'll also see many changes there as well. So I think the industry will continue to be driven by advertising for the foreseeable future, but it may mean different things in a few years.

ECT: Do you see any other revenue streams that might be emerging in the next two, three, four years?

SP: I think over the next two years or so, it's really going to be advertising-based. There is some potential, I think, that the way we interact with those ads could change significantly, and a lot of traffic may be driven through mobile devices.

ECT: Speaking of mobile, obviously search is in its very early stage with mobile. What do you see the potential there being?

SP: I think there's tremendous potential there, because mobile travels with us everywhere. We have information needs everywhere we go. There are whole new ways of interacting that we use with mobile -- touchscreens, voice -- that will impact search significantly. It will put more of a focus on things like local search, maybe even more of a focus on things like discovery tasks.

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