Neeva, which for a while looked like one of the startups with a real chance to challenge Google Search’s supremacy, announced Saturday that it was shutting down its search engine. The company says it’s all about artificial intelligence — and could be acquired by Snowflake, the information She mentioned – but mostly she seemed to think she had failed.
“Building search engines is hard,” Sridhar Ramaswamy and Vivek Raghunathan, co-founders of Neeva, wrote in a blog post announcing the closure. (Ramaswamy in particular is part of the reason Neeva has looked promising — as longtime head of the Google Ads business, few people are better equipped to know how to build and monetize search.) But Neeva did, he said. It has built a good and competitive search engine. It was actually ahead of Google in some ways, such as swapping out 10 blue links for a clearer page and emphasizing human-generated information.
But building the search engine was actually the easy part. Ramaswamy and Raghunathan continued, “During this journey, we have discovered that it is one thing to build a search engine, and quite another to convince ordinary users of the need to switch to a better option.”
Building the search engine was actually the easy part
I’ve spoken with the founders of Neeva several times over the past two years, and their list of grievances here is long and well-founded. They’ve had to contend with billion-dollar deals Google signed to make itself the default search engine on devices everywhere; The huge “Are you sure you want to change?” pop-ups that appear when you try to set a new default browser or search engine; The difficulty of finding these settings in the first place; the mess that is the Chrome Web Store; On and on and on. Anyone trying to create a new search engine is fighting an uphill battle on a grand scale.
Neeva was also a paid product, as the company attempted to prove a business model for search beyond ads and monitoring. “Contrary to popular belief,” the co-founders wrote in the blog post, “convincing users to pay for a better experience was actually a less daunting issue compared to getting them to try a new search engine in the first place.” Combine that with the tough economy, and Neeva simply won’t see a commercial path forward.
The timing here is really interesting. Neeva is closing at what may be the best moment in two decades for search engine start-ups. Users are increasingly tired of loading ads and by-product results they get from Google, and AI-powered chatbots like Bing and ChatGPT have upended everyone’s idea of how to interact with the internet. Neeva has bet on this as well, developing a system based on a large language model called Neeva AI that is in many ways more useful than what you’ll get from Bing or the Bard. But this was not enough either.
The race to take down Google is still very much on, of course: Bing continues to push hard for market share, and Brave recently described as now fully working on its own search suite. Companies like you.com and DuckDuckGo are also trying to rethink the way search works, and using artificial intelligence to do so. But so far, Google’s only real competitor seems to be Google.
Neeva’s search engine will be shutting down on June 2. Going forward, Neeva will move “into a new area of focus,” which appears likely to be LLM-based and related to the Snowflake acquisition. The company will refund users for the unused portion of their Neeva subscriptions, and delete all user data. “We’re really grateful to our community, and we’re really sorry that we’re unable to continue to provide the search engine you want and deserve,” the co-founders wrote.
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