IIT grads, ex-Google execs ready to roll out ad-free search engine …”Neeva”
to roll out Neeva in “four-five months”, first in the home market of the US and then English-speaking regions like Western Europe, Australia and India.
Vivek Raghunathan, Sridhar Ramaswamy worked together at Google
“At scale, an ad-supported product serves the company that shows you ads, it does not serve you.” With this thought, Sridhar Ramaswamy and Vivek Raghunathan, IIT alumni and former Google executives, are ready to roll out Neeva, an ad-free, private search product, which, by the middle of this year, hopes to offer a customer-paid and customer-first alternative, at a time of growing concerns over the control wielded by tech megaliths.
“The ad model has been great for bringing search to everyone on the planet, but over time, there is more and more pressure to show more ads and not really what the user wants. Our thesis is that we can create a much better search product, focusing solely on what a customer needs,” says Ramaswamy, the CEO of Neeva, speaking on a video call from his California home. This is a domain the 54-year-old knows well, having been the senior vice-president of ads and commerce at Google, and also run its travel, shopping and search infrastructure teams.
Raghunathan studied at IIT Mumbai and was earlier vice-president of Monetisation at YouTube.
“So it’s actually a broad set of experiences. Similarly, Vivek was the first tech lead of what is now called the Google Assistant. So we’ve actually worked on search on both sides,” Ramaswamy says, a graduate from IIT Chennai. This is why they felt “confident enough” that they could build the technology relatively inexpensively, he adds.
With a 45-person team in the US, the plan is to roll out Neeva in “four-five months”, first in the home market of the US and then English-speaking regions like Western Europe, Australia and India. “Fortunately we have a great team of engineers, designers and product managers, and very good backers,” says Ramaswamy. Neeva has raised $37.5 million so far, with equal investments from Greylock, Sequoia Capital and Ramaswamy himself. The product will be different from what people are used to, offering a single window for search and queries into personal data on services like Dropbox and email accounts, Ramaswamy says. “We have to rethink the core technology. And at some level, things like how you crawl the web, how you index the basics are similar,” he says. Like Google, Neeva will also use AI and machine learning to create the secret sauce — rankings for searches. On apprehensions that may arise regarding personal data, Ramaswamy says, “We guarantee that the product and company are designed so that personal data is indexed to serve your results, and for nothing else… We are creating a company that, from the beginning, is customer first and customer only. We are very adamant about making sure that this is the one and only revenue source.” A blog on Neeva also reiterates its commitment to be ad-free, guarantees that “your data will never be sold in any form whatsoever”, and promises that search history will be deleted by default after 90 days. (Google’s default is 18 months.). Having spent 16 years at Google, Ramaswamy says he has come to believe that it is “just not healthy” to have very large tech platforms control so much. “There are good people there, that’s not the issue. If you need to make more money, the temptation to show one more ad is just very strong,” he says, adding that what Neeva provides is a choice. “And giving this choice creates a richer Internet.” He is aware of the challenges of offering a paid product, and the need to ensure that it is “excellent”. However, Ramaswamy says, for him that is the motivation. He cites the example of services like Spotify and Dropbox, which succeeded in segments where there was no dearth of free options, and hopes that Neeva may also force their competitors to cut back on ads. “… You can’t now say, I’m going to show a page full of ads… Users are going to go for a paid option, because too much is too much.” Ramswamy adds, “We feel confident that a certain segment of the population will see value in a superior product. And especially in the current environment of worry, about how large and how influential the tech companies are, we feel we can get enough people who say ‘I just want a simple alternative, a service that I use, that I pay’. And that’s it, there’s no more worry about data, there’s no more worry about what else is going on.”
Google is a massive incumbent that will take great measures to compete with. That said, being small and nimble can be an advantage for Neeva.Google’s $115 billion advertising arm is under immense pressure from shareholders to keep cashing out. As long as this is the case, they will only continue to compromise search results to favor ads. This is especially apparent after they recently promoted former head of advertising, Prabhakar Raghavan, to head of search.By protecting user data and providing users access to content that is not available on other search engines, Neeva could prove to be a more reliable source of information. This new model could evolve the way we search and navigate the internet. At the very least, the founding of Neeva shows that even the most dominant companies have holes to poke.
🔗 Link to Neeva : Neeva
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What is Neeva?
Neeva is an ad-free search engine that requires a subscription to use. It can be linked to personal accounts like Microsoft Office, Dropbox, or Google. Outside of just searching the web, users are also able to search their personal documents such as emails, presentations, and more.The search engine is not being built from the ground up and will rely on Bing search results. It will also pull in data from different sources such as weather.com, Apple Maps, and Intrinio stocks.The company has raised $37.5 million in funding from venture capital firms Greylock Partners, Sequoia Capital, as well as Ramaswamy himself. There is a waitlist to subscribe to the search engine and initial users are given free access until the end of the year. Following the first year, users can expect to pay less than $10 per month.
Why did Ramaswamy leave Google to start Neeva?
In an article with the New York Times, Ramaswamy explains the issues he had with the direction of Google Search:“The relentless pressure to maintain Google’s growth… had come at a heavy cost to the company’s users. Useful search results were pushed down the page to squeeze in more advertisements, and privacy was sacrificed for online tracking tools to keep tabs on what ads people were seeing.”The New York Times — June 19, 2020In recent years, paid search ads have taken significantly more traffic from organic (unpaid) search results. According to a study from SparkToro, between 2016 and 2018, the click-through-rate of paid search ads on mobile devices increased by nearly 70%.There have been several changes to Google search results to favor ads. For example, the color of the Ad identifier has changed from yellow to black, making ads difficult to differentiate from unpaid results. Additionally, ads take up more space and draw the eye using images.Ramaswamy’s motivation behind Neeva is to create a search engine that doesn’t have to make these compromises.
What are the advantages of an ad-free search engine?
The idea behind being ad-free is that it will enable Neeva to entirely focus on providing quality user experience. Ultimately, the belief is that this will provide a better product in the long-term.The ad-free subscription model has historically disrupted large, established industries. Subscription-based streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu, for example, started the cord-cutting revolution that is making cable television obsolete. Today, more people pay for streaming services than cable or satellite television. (source)There are obvious challenges with the paid subscription model, especially when it is up against free ad-based models. Gabriel Weinberg, chief executive of search engine DuckDuckGo, believes this to be the case. He claims “… you have to be free because Google will be free forever.” (source)DuckDuckGo is an ad-based search engine that protects the privacy of users by not selling data to advertisers. From 2015 to 2019, the search engine saw nearly a 400% increase in total queries. (source) The search engine’s exponential growth can be in part attributed to a growing concern among consumers about data privacy.Neeva will provide users with similar protections and even has a Digital Bill of Rights that states their principals about privacy. Being ad-free gives Neeva no reason to store or mine user data. User behavior such as account linking or search history will simply be used to personalize their experience.
Will Neeva search engine use AI and machine learning ?
The company says that the upcoming search engine will allow users to directly search for personal data stored on services like Dropbox and email accounts. It will use AI and machine learning – similar to Google – to provide a personalised experience; however, it guarantees that “the product and company are designed so that personal data is indexed to serve your results, and for nothing else.” Notably, Neeva has also published a ‘Bill of Rights’ on its website that notes how the company hopes to operate and collect user data. It claims that users’ data will not be sold any in any form, adding that search queries would be stored for more than 90 days “while offering you the option to let the company store it longer if that is your choice.” Google’s default is 18 months.
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