Just a couple of years back, IIT-Madras alumni Sridhar Ramaswamy was in charge of Google’s search engine advertising including YouTube ads. As disillusionment set in and privacy issues became topical, Sridhar quit Google.
Those were the times, news reports were abound with scantily dressed kids on YouTube featuring ads of iconic brands. These automatic ads were served by the adtech team lead by Sridhar.
Sridhar’s recent interview with ‘New York Times’ has unplugged an innovation that many battling privacy have been eagerly looking for.
Sridhar along with IIT-Mumbai alumni Vivek Raghunathan has formed a new search engine company Neeva http://www.neeva.co and promises to have no ads.
Sridhar (ex-SVP of Ads at Google) and Vivek (ex-VP of Monetization at YouTube) met in the early days of search ads at Google, and came up with the idea for Neeva over hikes and coffee.
Amidst COVID-19, the duo is all over the place and tops the media radar across the world.
Neeva has secured support and investment from a group of visionary investors Asheem Chandna and Reid Hoffman (Greylock Partners), Bill Coughran (Sequoia Capital, an early investor in Google) and Sridhar himself.
“We built Neeva to feel like your personal corner of the web, designed specifically for you – always ad-free and private. Our mission is to serve our users, and only our users,” says Neeva profile in the website. The two-dozen team members at Neeva have built products at companies like Google, Snap, Dropbox and WhatsApp. Now you can sign up to join the waitlist and become an early tester of Neeva, which will be free till the end of this year and later will charge a minimum subscription (the price to pay to protect privacy). However, Google will always remain free as paid advertisers top search rankings.
Industry veterans admit that it is tough to take on Google search engine. So, what’s it that Neeva aspires to do that Google could not deliver.
“Our vision for a private and ads-free search engine that truly puts you first. Whether you’re looking for general information, or something deeply personal—like an important email, a calendar invite, or a copy of your passport—you can be certain that your information is your own, and not sold on to advertisers as a means of targeting you with their ads,” Sridhar explain Neeva’s objective in his blog.
Before outlining the vision, Sridhar had made two pointers.
First, the very existence of an online ad right on top of the search results pushes down and deprioritizes the information we are searching for. After all, when most of us are searching about flu symptoms, we want to know the symptoms—not see an ad for cough syrup, and certainly not an ad for cough syrup that will then follow us across the Internet for the coming weeks.
Second, ad-supported search engines face the daily pressure of returning value to their shareholders by prioritizing advertisers and ads revenue. This has several unintended consequences, including ever-increasing ad-load, ads driven misinformation and harmful content, and practices that value profit over user privacy.
This summarises, what users can expect in the coming months. Sequoia in a recent Medium blog has further made Neeva’s business module clear with the new experience one can expect. “Your information is private with Neeva. Your data belongs to you and is never sold to advertisers. You can search for hiking boots and be shown sites that empower you to make a better decision about which hiking boots to buy — rather than a list of product ads. You control exactly what you’re searching for — whether it’s on the public web or in personal accounts you choose to connect. At its core, Neeva is a private, personal hub for all the information that matters most to you.”
‘The New York Times’ report added Neeva’s search rankings are powered by Microsoft Bing, the weather from weather.com, stock data from Intrinio, and maps from Apple. “When users link their Google, Microsoft Office or Dropbox account, Neeva sifts through personal files as well as the public internet for the right answers.” the reports said.
As far as his conscience goes, Sridhar is very clear that he was part of the decision making process at Google. He explains in his blog. “As the leader of Google’s advertising products until 2018, I truly believed in the benefits of an ad-supported search experience. And indeed, there are aspects of online advertising that I still very much believe can bring benefits to users and advertisers alike. However, I have come to believe that ads detract from a good search experience and have also had many unintended side-effects that have large social consequences.”