Powerset - taking it to the people
As part of our strategy to begin opening up our Kimono, last Thursday, we invited about 40 Powerlabbers to come visit us at our offices to get a preview of Powerlabs, our core demo and some of the mashups that we have already created on top of our NL search platform.
The first thing we did when we started the meeting was ask everyone "so who thinks there is a lot of hype surrounding Powerset" and everyone responded with a resounding "YES"
The second thing we did is make a committment to everyone in the room that
1. everyone was allowed to ask any question they wanted
2. we would not dodge any question and we would answer every question in a straightfoward non-scrippted manner
3. we would be very upfront about where we are in the development cycle
4. anyone was allowed to call us on hype talk
5. questions could be asked at any time and we would not move on until the question was answered
In short, we ran the meeting with our Powerlabbers the same way we run our 4:20 meetings (see my post here)
Given the crowd we invited, which included some of our most profound skeptics and the committments we made, we were willing to take whatever came to us in the meeting.
As we started, we first introduced some people at Powerset that were available to answer questions as we went along including Tim Converse (Director of Search Quality), Chad Walters (Director of Search), Scott Prevost (Director of Product), Kevin Clark (Ruby) and Mark Johnson (who's in charge of Powerlabs).
Then we started out by showing some screen shots that showed how our indexing and query engine worked and how it is different than a traditional keyword search engine. Then we showed deomonstrations of
2. Our core demo (with a heads up Pepsi Challenge) between us and Google
3. Several mashups that we have already built on top of our search platform
About 10 minutes in I thought that the crowd was being a little too easy on us and I asked the folks to step up and start asking some tough questions. WOW! did it start to get interesting from that moment forward and that's what made the meeting great at the end of the day.
We got some really interesting questions regarding
1. Our role in spam detection
2. How our system will do ranking (note that all of the demos show did not include ranking yet, because we aren't done with that part of the system)
3. What the size of our index was and what our indexing plans will be in the future
4. When we are launching
With each question we really tried not to hold back, not to spin any answer and to take the time to answer each question fully. A key and interesting moment occured when Ethan, one of the Powerlabbers who was a tough nut to crack... and still is, questioned us asking if Natural Language Parsing on the indexing side is even financially possible.
Well, telling everyone in the world how long it takes us to parse a sentence on the indexing side was pretty confidential information and certainly himmmed and hawwed for a while. But Ethan quickly reminded me of the promise we made at the beginning of the meeting. So in keeping that spirit I shared the magic number, which I am sure now countless people are running their own models to see what the costs actually compute out to - rest assured everyone now knows that Powerset has broken the financial barrier to Natural Language Parsing - that's one of the reasons our funding has gone so well.
It seemed that that one question spurred folks on to ask more questions and it also showed everyone in the meeting that we meant what we said when we wouldn't back down from any questions. About 2 hours later the meeting ended and I asked, "So did we live up to our promise" and everyone in the audience clapped.
For me, this was a key moment for Powerset. With all of the blog stories surrounding Powerset, its no surprise that some folks believe we are all hype with no meat. I hope that this first of many meetings has help to start creating a seachange in the relationship with Powerset and the public.
I think if you asked anyone at the meeting, they will confirm the openness of the meeting. Our goal at the end of the day is to foster this open community within Powerlabs. We expect that there will be some skeptics, but I believe that if everyone see just how open we really are willing to be then everyone will start to see how Powerset's technology really is a leap frog advance in search technology.
Rather than believing me, however, you should contact the people who were there at the event and you should sign up so you can get invited to other events and experience it directly.
Some of the articles from the people that have come over to visit or who attended:
Dan Farber at CNET
Kevin Burton at TailRank
Ethan who called me out
Don Dodge at Microsoft
Michael Arrington at TechCrunch
John McKinley (CTO of AOL)
Matt and Kyle from Uncov
Rafe Needleman (CNET)
You will note that its quite interesting to read the blogs from the people who came to Powerset versus the comments and blogs from people who have not been here yet. I hope that when we launch Powerlabs in September we can convert everyone - no matter how skepticle they are now.