Neeva, once a promising competitor to Google Search, is shutting down
Neeva, which for a while looked like one of the startups with a real chance to challenge the supremacy of Google Search, announced on Saturday that it was shutting down its search engine. The company says it’s all about AI ̵[ads1]1; and could be acquired by Snowflake, The information reported – but mostly seem to think it failed.
“Building search engines is hard,” Neeva co-founders Sridhar Ramaswamy and Vivek Raghunathan wrote in a blog post announcing the shutdown. (Ramaswamy, in particular, is part of the reason Neeva seemed promising—as the longtime head of Google’s advertising business, few people are better equipped to know how to build and monetize search than he is.) But Neeva did it, they said. . It built a good, competitive search engine. It was actually well ahead of Google in some ways, like swapping out 10 blue links for a more visual page and emphasizing human-generated information.
But building the search engine was actually the easy part. “During this journey, we’ve discovered that it’s one thing to build a search engine, and quite another to convince ordinary users of the need to switch to a better choice,” continued Ramaswamy and Raghunathan.
Building the search engine was actually the easy part
I’ve spoken to Neeva’s co-founders several times over the past couple of years, and their list of complaints here is long and well-founded. They have had to contend with the billion dollar deals Google is signing 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 Chrome Web Market; on and on and on. Anyone trying to build a new search engine faces a massive uphill battle.
Neeva was also a paid product, as the company tried to prove a business model for search other than ads and surveillance. “Contrary to popular belief,” the co-founders wrote in the blog post, “convincing users to pay for a better experience was actually a less difficult problem compared to getting them to try a new search engine in the first place.” Combine that with a tough economy, and Neeva simply couldn’t see a business path forward.
The timing here is very interesting. Neeva lays down what may be the best moment in two decades for upstart search engines. Users are increasingly fed up with the ad load and poor results they get from Google, and AI chatbots like Bing and ChatGPT have upgraded everyone’s idea of how to interact with the internet. Neeva bet on this too, developing a large language model-based system called Neeva AI which is in many ways more useful than what you get from Bing or Bard. But that wasn’t enough either.
Of course, the race to take down Google is still on: Bing continues to push hard for market share, and Brave recently said it now runs entirely on its own search stack. Companies like you.com and DuckDuckGo are also trying to rethink the way search works, and are using AI to do so. But so far, it seems that Google’s only real competitor is Google.
Neeva’s search engine will close on June 2. Going forward, Neeva will “shift to a new area of focus”, which appears 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 are truly grateful for our community,” the co-founders wrote, “and we are truly sorry that we are unable to continue to provide the search engine you want and deserve.”