Powerset Testing Search Results At Mechanical Turk

A reader noticed that stealth search engine Powerset is using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service to gauge user reactions to search results.

See the screen shot (click for larger view) – users are shown a query and a number of results and are asked to evaluate the relevancy of each result from five choices. In this case, the query is “revealing bikinis.” Users are asked to evaluate four sets of results within ten minutes, and are paid $0.02 for the effort.

The current batch of Powerset projects have run their course, and there are currently no other projects available on Mechanical Turk.

I spoke with Powerset CEO Barney Pell this evening who confirmed that they are using Mechanical Turk to get human feedback on search results. He says the results are not all Powerset generated – rather, they show results from Powerset, Google and others to see which users prefer for a given query. He also says this is an ongoing project, and new ones will be added soon.

Pell also said that Powerset plans to use Mechanical Turk over the long haul, even after launch. They’ll put actual user queries into Mechanical Turk in real time, add Powerset and competitor results and see which results people find more relevant. If results suggest Powerset isn’t more relevant, they’ll adjust their engine.

Powerset also uses the EC2 computing service, another web service offered by Amazon. They recently released some of their internal growth models that allow people to compare the relative costs of EC2 to building out a real data center.