30 Days of Blog

Neeva is not going to save us from the Google Monster[30 Days of Blog 5]

Neeva is not going to save us from the Google Monster[30 Days of Blog 5]

This post is part of my 30 blogs in 30 days series. More details here.

Recently, a former Google executive launched a search-engine startup Neeva. Neeva will differentiate itself from competitors by charging a subscription fee. It has raised $37M and has 25 employees. Neeva will not use tech of its own. It will use Bing for search results, Apple Maps for Maps, and other solutions. If you want to understand how incestuous the Silicon Valley scene is, you only have to look at that funding amount.

There already are alternatives to Google. I have already been using DuckDuckGo as my default search engine for the past decade. DuckDuckGo uses it’s own indexing, plus from Bing, Yahoo, Yandex, Apple Maps, Yelp and other sources. DDG also introduced many innovations. Some, like knowledge panels, were snapped by Google, and others, like the bang syntax, allowing users to swtich to other sources directly. The results are superior or equal to Google’s. I still switch to Google 10% of the time.

Mountain View’s Advantage

Google’s advantage in search is due to it’s tech. It is still one step ahead of it’s competition. Since no competition seem to catch up, they try to differentiate itself by offering something Google can’t; privacy. Both DuckDuckGo and Neeva are offering no tracking. Neeva further lays claim to credibility by being a subscription product. However, why would I subscribe to DuckDuckGo without ads? What are they offering in their core tech that other’s do not? What would be the point of paying for search if the results are not as good as Google’s? Furthermore, I think their claim to be privacy focused seem hyperbole.

The Privacy Fallacies

Fallacy #1 — If you’re paying for it, it means you are not the product.

Right now Microsoft charges PC vendors a licensing fee to include Windows 10 on their hardware. Despite this revenue stream, Microsoft collects an ungodly amount of data in the name of telemetry. More than Google does on Android. There are commentators that claim that it is just like Apple. The problem is that only Apple makes Apple-like money selling hardware.

Even if we believe their claim that they will not collect any data, what about their vendors? Can we expect to have the same priority?

Fallacy #2 — You can create a superior search product with a subscription business model

Reddit is 3rd or 4th most popular site on the internet on any given day. It is a site where stories and memes are voted on by it’s users. On the surface, this democratic ideal seems perfect; all the cream is voted up to the top, all the garbage is voted down to the bottom. Without even factoring in state-level manipulation, in practice the result is less utopian. The end result is thousands of closed off spaces engaged in groupthink. To the point where there subreddits full of groupthink about the groupthink of other subreddits.

A subscription based search engine will probably work the same. What would be the point of wasting resources to index something if your paying users are not interested? But how can they provide good results when they do not index everything possible?

Fallacy #3 — Neeva wants to compete Google

Nobody in their right mind would pay $37 Million to fund a Google competitor that will be subscription-only and does not have any proprietary tech behind it. My guess that the founders and investors have a clear exit strategy; sell to one of the Facebook, Amazon or Apple once the product is mature enough. My guess is Apple, hence the credibility signaling.

So what can beat Google

Facebook. Not directly. The search on Facebook is sub-par on the good days. What they has done is create a walled garden around information. Information that was available through open-web blogs and phpBB forums, not resides in private Facebook Groups and WhatsApp Group Chats and Instagram DMs. Case in point; this episode of ReplyAll. TLDL; They tried to find a song that was stuck in some guy’s head. They went to great lengths to find it, even calling the lead singer of Barenaked Ladies. In the end they just had to do a Facebook search.

Google can’t index what it can’t reach, but that is an issue with all search engine. I don’t know how we can deem that a good thing. The open web levels the field. Walled Gardens create monopolies. Neeva, if it is a genuine product, would have to contend with the same issues that Google is, but with inferior tech.

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