Natural language search

Microsoft’s long rumoured aquisition of Powerset which finally completed today (rumoured value $100m) shows the potential importance of natural language query processing to the search process. This quote from a Techrunch interview with Naam, the founder and CEO of Powerset captures why:

Naam says 5% of searches contain elements of natural language that keyword based search algorithms don’t handle well, and there’s an assumption that as better results are returned, more people may start to simply type a normal sentence instead of a couple of keywords.

5% of query volume is worth a lot of money, and I buy the idea that the percentage could get larger as people get used to the idea that natural language queries return good results. Further – if we ever move to speech based interfaces, say for mobile, then natural language can only increase in importance.

There is a bunch of good stuff in the comments on the TC post about how having better search mousetrap is less important than market share and brand in determining success in the search market. That is true unless you have a much better search mousetrap – and I think that natural language may just be enough to deliver a much better search experience.

Here in the UK True Knowledge is after the same market, which maybe explains some of the recent excitement around the company.