There is a growing appetite for alternative search engines. At least that’s the heart of the argument that Richard Socher, the former chief scientist of Salesforce, likes to make. In 2020, Socher co-founded You, a search engine that uses AI to understand search queries, rank results, and analyze queries in different languages (including programming languages). You summarizes information from the web and offers built-in applications, such as search tools for Twitter, that allow users to complete tasks without having to leave the results page.
There seems to be some truth in his words. Socher says You has hundreds of thousands of users, with 70% growth in signups last month and 30% growth in unique searches month over month. Although not comparable to the most popular search engines in the world (i.e. Google, Bing), which have hundreds of millions of users, Socher draws attention to the retention rate of You. Fifty percent of people who set you as their default search engine continue to use it after the fact.
The numbers are to investors’ taste. Today, You closed a $25 million funding round led by Radical Ventures with participation from Time Ventures of Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Breyer Capital, Norwest Venture Partners and Day One Ventures. That brings the startup’s total to $45 million, which Socher says will be spent developing “premium features” and working with outside developers to “display more useful actionable apps” in the search results page. looking for You.
“We envision You.com becoming an open search platform and allowing others to leverage all the search technology we’ve created. Data transparency, user personalization, synthesis, privacy, and industry-leading search are the foundations of our platform, and we’re beating Google for the long haul by enabling the world to build the next search experience together.” Socher told TechCrunch in an email interview. . “Google is a monolithic, monopolistic search engine that is closed and has ultimately weaponized AI against users in an effort to serve its true purpose: advertising. We are building You.com as a search platform that is open and emphasizes directly satisfying user needs with You.com apps instead of bombarding people with ads.
Socher previously founded MetaMind, an AI startup that was acquired by Salesforce in 2016. Salesforce, Socher helped build the sprawling Einstein AI platform and worked with Bryan McCann, the second co-founder of You, on natural language processing research.
Unsurprisingly given Socher’s data science background, You liberally sprinkles AI-enabled features throughout the search experience. A capability recently launched today, YouCode can generate code modeled after GitHub’s co-pilot based on a search query. And the recent YouWrite, powered by OpenAI’s GPT-3, can be asked to write essays, blog posts, and even boilerplate letters.
Socher sees apps, not ads, as central to growing You – a twist on the traditional search engine formula. (Advertising accounts for the majority of Google’s revenue – $256.73 billion in 2021.) While it hasn’t ruled out introducing ads, You does offer a “private mode” that doesn’t store queries. , preferences, IP addresses or location data and anonymizes the query data sent to third party partners from You.
“Our private mode provides the most private search experience of any search engine. Users can also request deletion of their data and have full transparency on how [and] what data is used,” says Socher. “Wherever possible, we believe the future is in apps, not ads, and the economy will increasingly become one of showing rather than telling.”
Certainly, You has put its money where it belongs, investing substantial development in experiences like the aforementioned YouCode. In addition to generating code, YouCode can find code snippets from sources like Stack Overflow and GitHub and filter results relevant to a particular development environment and software stack. A special preview panel displays high-level information from documentation published online, while built-in tools can validate JSON files and generate codes for colors in HEX, RGB, and HSV.
While the bulk of You’s apps have been developed in-house, the next step is to expose the platform to third parties, Socher says. Going forward, You will open access to its datasets and custom search technology so developers can build on their internal data. At this point, you can start charging for things like API access to features, “advanced” and “custom” text and code generation, and out-of-the-box search support through the basics. internal developer knowledge.
It remains to be seen whether You’s business model will be a winner. Other under-the-radar search engines, like Neeva, have taken different routes to monetization, charging for access to search results. Still others struggled to find a reliable source of income – Cuil, which was founded by ex-Google engineers, raised $33 million in capital before closing in 2010, after just over 2 years of operation.
In any case, going back to Socher’s earlier point, ads are probably not the preferred way for search engine startups to make money. At the enterprise level, privacy features such as Apple’s App Tracking Transparency threaten to disrupt the hidden mechanics of many ads, while regulators in the United States and abroad consider restrictions on the amount of data that advertisers may collect for targeting purposes. making certain advertising products less attractive.
“We want to be an open entrance to the internet instead of a closed gateway that taxes all businesses through an ad network that ultimately acts as a bottleneck to progress in information sharing,” Socher said. , digging into You.com’s main rivals. . “A better search engine is possible – one with better privacy, better results for professionals like coders, fewer ads, more social results, fewer SEO sites, more choice and agency for people in classification.”