AI product review: Perplexity.ai — Bridging the gap between AI chats & search engines
Initiating our ai product review series: perplexity.ai, a favorite among ai leaders for everyday use.
“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around.”
Have you ever searched for a fact on Google, only to be frustrated by a bunch of ads and irrelevant links? You could use Chat-GPT with Bing or a web-browsing plugin, but it may be a complete hallucination or fabrication. Well, this is precisely the gap that perplexity.ai aims to fill.
Perplexity is standing out in the AI community, offering a unique blend of search and AI-driven insights. But how does it stand against giants like Chat-GPT and Bard?
Short answer: by trying to solve a unique problem. And we, product people, love that.
For these reasons, http://perplexity.ai will be the first product in my series reviewing AI products.
Perplexity.ai is a search platform that utilizes Large Language Models (LLMs) to address complex queries by summarizing content from multiple pages, providing fast, accurate answers with references to their sources, thus ensuring no hallucinations or fake news - a point that really impressed me. The free version, which requires no sign-up to start querying , works with their default model, while the paid version, starting at 20 USD per month, includes access to GPT-4, Claude 2.1, and Gemini.
The company was co-founded in 2022 and is headquartered in San Francisco, California. The founders include Andy Konwinski (formerly of Databricks), Aravind Srinvas (formerly of OpenAI, DeepMind, and Google), CTO Denis Yarats (formerly of Facebook, Quora, and Microsoft), and Carlos Virella. Perplexity.ai is backed by venture capital firm NEA, Databricks, and individual investors who have stakes in companies like Weaviate and Wispr AI, among others. Its most recent funding round was a Series B.
Problem vs solution space
As per their slogan "Where Knowledge Begins," Perplexity.ai seems to be addressing the problem of discerning the truth when searching on search engines. It is often hard to know whether you are reading a complete fabrication or not. Articles don’t necessarily need to have sources, and when reading about a subject that the reader is unfamiliar with, discerning the truth can be difficult. A similar problem occurs when querying an LLM for facts.
Perplexity seeks to solve the aforementioned problem by providing a fast and user-friendly interface, both on the web and as a mobile app. When a user asks a question, it uses LLMs' internal knowledge to double-check the facts stated and provides an answer in text form, adding links from the sources as well. The sources are chosen based on relevance, domain authority, recency, user feedback, and quality of content.
To deliver the most relevant information, Perplexity may engage in a back-and-forth conversation with the user, asking questions to clarify their needs. Perplexity achieves this with the help of an advanced answer engine to process your questions and tasks, taking into account the entire conversation history for context.
Strategic positioning & USP
Perplexity.ai aims to occupy the sweet spot between a web-browsing LLM and a search engine. Their entire technology, user interface, and experience are designed to provide this hybrid solution in the best way possible.
The target audience for Perplexity.ai encompasses a broad spectrum of users who require quick, accurate, and reliable information, often with an emphasis on the credibility of sources. This audience can be broadly categoried into several key segments:
- Academic and Research Community: Students, researchers, and educators seeking scholarly content and academic resources.
- Professionals and Business Users: Entrepreneurs, analysts, and other professionals needing up-to-date market insights and industry trends for informed decision-making.
- Tech Enthusiasts and Early Adopters: Individuals interested in the latest AI and technology advancements, exploring new tools for personal or professional use.
- Casual Information Seekers: General users looking for quick, accurate answers to a wide range of questions, from simple facts to complex topics.
- Journalists and Content Creators: Those who need to rapidly gather, verify, and summarize information from multiple web sources for their content.
- Developers and Tech Companies: Users leveraging Perplexity.ai's API for integrating advanced search and AI capabilities into their applications.
Features and capabilities:
- Main search: This feature allows users toaggregate and summarize relevant information from diverse web sources, providing users with credible, fact-checked answers to their queries
- Copilot: Allows to interact with the AI assistant, enabling a conversational approach to browsing the web and accessing information. However, in my opinion, this is a bit of a weak spot and needs more polishing.
- Focus: This is a filter that allows users to search within possible sources, including Academic, Writing, YouTube, Reddit, Wolfram/Alpha, or All.
- Discover: The most relevant and famous threads are listed for everyone to access.
- Library: This is where users can view their past threads.
- Playground: The Perplexity Labs is a hidden feature that allows users to choose different models and versions of these, such as pplx-7b-online, pplx-70b-online, mistal-7b-instruct, codellama-34b-instruct, llama2-70b-chat, and more. Pretty cool!
- Separate Chatbot: Perplexity offers a chatbot feature, though its functionality seems similar to the main view.
- Math Problem Solving: While it can solve math problems, the formatting might not be as polished as that of ChatGPT.
- Real-time Information: Unlike ChatGPT, which has data limited to September 2021, Perplexity provides real-time information with relevant links or videos.
- Search Engine Extension: Perplexity can search the web, similar to ChatGPT's Bing integration.
- API: It also provides an API that allows users to request data from other systems.
- Attachments: Users are allowed to attach text, PDFs, and images, but only 3 per day with the free version.
Here a Figma link to the screens
- Performance: It is known for its speed, often delivering results faster than some competitors.
- User Interface: There is both a web version and an app version available.
- Branding & Design: They released a new branding and interface design in September 2023.
- User Experience:
- It flows very quickly, although the copilot & threads needs more re-thinking. It lacks a clear.
- The platform stands out with its free access version, which doesn't even require sign-up.
Main 3 Issues:
1) Relevance of Search Results
- Issue: The search results do not always align precisely with the user's questions or provide the desired information.
- Potential Solution: Enhance the AI's understanding of context and user intent to improve the relevance of search results. Incorporate user feedback mechanisms for continuous learning and accuracy improvement.
2)Management of Query Threads
- Issue: Users are dissatisfied with the constant display of past query threads, which can clutter their experience.
- Potential Solution: Introduce features to manage and organise past queries, such as the ability to archive or delete threads, or to opt-out of this feature entirely.
3)Limited Free Version Functionality
- Issue: The free version may have restrictions that limit the user's ability to thoroughly test the platform's capabilities, leading to a potentially incomplete evaluation of its effectiveness.
- Potential Solution: Offer a trial period of the premium version, providing full access to all features for a limited time, allowing users to experience the full breadth of the platform's capabilities before deciding to subscribe.
Comparison with LLMs (ChatGPT, Bard)
- UX: While ChatGPT is recognised for its superior language model and human-like conversations, Perplexity.ai is appreciated for its ease of use & fact-focused answers.
- Capabilities: I would not compare Perplexity with ChatGPT. Even with the web-pilot capabilities, ChatGPT is great at generating answers but not as effective for research purposes.
- Tech: Perplexity.ai uses its own large language models and provides GPT-4 access, similar to many other LLMs.
- Price: The free version is available, and the premium version is priced the same as ChatGPT, at 20 USD.
Quotes from AI Leaders
“Perplexity is the only AI product that I use every day on both my desktop and phone. It replaces the research I used to conduct either on ChatGPT or Google. Especially for product discovery or sales research, there is no better tool for quickly searching live data. Perplexity also offers access to their models, and we have integrated those into the Klu platform for use cases that require real-time search data” Stephen Walker II, CEO of Klu
" I've found Perplexity.ai to be an invaluable tool for conducting scientific research, offering access to the latest studies and data with remarkable accuracy. Its advanced AI capabilities significantly streamline the research process, enabling us to stay at the forefront of healthcare innovation." Adrian Kochsiek, CEO of Onvy Health.
Final Star Review
Problem Solving: 5 stars. A mix of LLM search and search engines with the ability to see references is highly satisfying. Mucho gusto! 👌
Features & Capabilities: 4 stars. The copilot needs more work, and the discovery feature seems irrelevant to me.
Performance: 5 stars. Many AI products are in the beta stage with poor performance, but not Perplexity.ai. It’s fast and reliable.
UI/UX: 4 stars. The copilot sometimes gives answers that seem to be just copy-pasted; I would appreciate more elaboration, not just a summary.
Final Rating: 4.5/5 Lucianos 👨🏻
Closing thoughts & conclusion
Perplexity.ai brings something new to the table in the world of AI and information gathering. Its no-cost access and ability to pull up-to-date information quickly make it a go-to for fast facts. It may not beat ChatGPT in conversation skills, but its special features definitely make it stand out.
I'm all for trying out great products, and I suggest you do the same with Perplexity.ai. It's particularly useful for digging into market trends, the latest news, or historical data. Give it a go — it might just change the way you look up information and become the place where your knowledge truly begins.