Remember when people would litter their speech with .com appendages, just to give it that contemporary ring?
Permit me to demonstrate:
Have you heard the new Celine Dion CD? It is the bomb.com!
OMG those Heelys are fly.com!
Anything could be .commed back then.
It’s all #this and #that these days, isn’t it?
Well one company wants to take us all back to the 2000s, when search engines were cool and everyone was doing a funky new dance called The Robot.
What is You.com?
Or should that be ‘are’?
It’s a new search engine with financial backing from the Salesforce CEO, Marc Benioff, and a number of venture capital firms. You can give it a whirl here.
That financial backing only adds up to about $20 million so far, which doesn’t seem a lot if you want to topple Google. But let’s assume that’s just to get things rolling.
A number of companies, including DuckDuckGo, believe that Google’s dominance in search is less than inevitable.
Google uses a huge amount of personal data for advertising purposes; it is under investigation for a number of anti-competitive practices; and its search experience is suffering from Google’s need to squeeze profits from our curiosity.
Most notably, Google’s transition towards being an “answer engine” that scrapes content from websites has had a negative impact on the quality of information we receive. It has also spread itself too thin, with search now just one component of a huge ecosystem.
You.com thinks it’s time to go back to offering an effective search engine that helps inform people.
The company takes aim at Google’s perceived weaknesses on its website:
You.com summarizes the best parts of the internet for you, without ads and with great privacy.
Our AI will help you find the most relevant apps but you are in control and can customize these apps and sources. We believe in bringing more trust, kindness and facts to the internet.
Let’s break that down:
“You.com summarizes the best parts of the internet for you”
It crawls, indexes, and ranks content just like other search engines.
From the comparisons I have run (queries like “credit cards”, “black friday deals”), You.com seems to give more preference to Exact Match Domains in its results than either Google or Bing!.
That means that for the query “credit cards”, Creditcards.com ranks 1st on You.com. For “black friday deals”, BlackFriday.com ranks 1st.
It’s easy to see why this happens: the algorithm is looking for the most relevant result and what could be more relevant than a site that literally has the query in the domain? Spammers, of which I was once one, figured this out a long time ago too…
Basically, You.com is not as sophisticated as the search giants and nor could it be at this stage. “The best parts of the internet” may be an overstatement.
That technology can be improved, so what about the rest of the experience?
Well it looks like this:
Results are displayed horizontally and users can adjust the settings. For example, you can decide you’d prefer to see News above the Web results.
There is more information on show here than the short snippets on Google. To web managers’ frustration, Google has started writing the snippets automatically too.
On You.com there may be an opportunity to create a more enticing piece of content for these result cards.
Below the Web section, I see these sections for my “Leeds United” query:
Now, some say Google has gone too far in assuming our “intent”. It plays God by deciding which sources we should and shouldn’t see, based on what it “thinks” we mean.
All I’m saying here is there must be a middle ground between:
Google making a lot of decisions on my behalf
Showing me StackOverflow results when I really want to see whether Jamie Shackleton will get the nod at right-back today.
Aesthetically, you’ll also note that each result receives a large amount of screen space. Users can click on the results to see more information without leaving the search engine.
This doesn’t address the issue of websites receiving less traffic from search engines for their content, even if it is a useful feature. If we consider the players that You.com would need on board to make this work, I would venture that it needs content creators to promote their product.
The current approach sees You.com scrape even more of this content than even Google does.
But this is what they mean when they say they “summarize” the internet for users.
Ok, next part of that value proposition from above:
“without ads and with great privacy.”
- Great privacy: DuckDuckGo has made inroads with this strategy and it is certainly important for users. You.com offers a ‘Private Mode’, which does not store search or location data.
“We may share any information we receive with vendors and service providers retained in connection with the provision of our Services.”
“We will only share your search query or additional information (such as IP address) if necessary to allow you to use the third party search applications. Services that require location will be disabled in private mode and you will need to provide it explicitly (e.g “weather in Palo Alto”).”
And that’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it? You.com is open-source and allows third-party apps access to user data. How does it police their use of the data?
Google might be creepy, but it has a better idea of what I’m looking for when I search for ‘cashmere sweaters’ than this effort:
You.com’s approach means users have to be very precise to get to the right results. Or they share their data and get better results, thereby reducing the whole privacy point anyway.
- Without ads: For sure, Google’s ad-driven model is a beautifully gilded cage. It is the world’s greatest profit machine, but it is simultaneously eating into the core experience that sustains it.
“Without ads” sounds great! So what else will pay for all these search results? That’s not clear, and You.com “hasn’t ruled out running ads in future”. Oh.
If it goes down the ad-supported route, it might as well give up to Google immediately. Any real challenger will need to begin with a new business model.
"For marketing purposes, such as developing and providing promotional materials that may be useful, relevant, valuable or otherwise of interest to you.”
“May be useful”, eh?
This sounds like the kind of assumption Google makes on our behalf, no? Isn’t the You.com idea that we are in control of how our information is used?
Speaking of which:
“you are in control and can customize these apps and sources.”
We saw above how users can adapt the You.com results page. You.com is correct in saying that the only way to make direct changes to Google search results is to pay for ads. It makes sense to give users the choice, even if that reduces the profit potential.
But what about the sources?
Well, users can go to their Preferences section and tell You.com which sources they want to hear from, like this:
I don’t know that I ever have heard from the Christian Science Monitor. I still appreciate the option to make this silence certain.
Although in all seriousness, I am not sure that this a big selling point for You.com. It just means people don’t have to hear the other side of any issue, which will only cement existing divisions.
And the final part:
“We believe in bringing more trust, kindness and facts to the internet.”
I mean, good for you. Dot com.
Will people really switch from Google to You.com?
As it stands, no. But some radical competition still won’t hurt. We’ll only get a better way to search if companies do take these risks.
It is fair to say that a new search engine can’t offer any features that the incumbent giants couldn’t just copy and improve. Anything You can do, G can do better.
Yet Google is at a crossroads now, as user demands change and social media takes over more of our everyday lives.
Google is trying to encourage people to interact with its search experience through images, but it always has to balance the user’s best interests with the advertisers’ bottom line.
Its business model could restrict its ability to adapt.
Let’s think: What would be useful to Google users?
Well, people are overwhelmed by information. It is frustrating that we click on Google ads, not knowing whether the page will truly answer our needs. Better information on the screen would save us time.
But this would have a negative impact on Google revenues. It needs those clicks.
Google has added new features, such as Discover, to incorporate a curated selection of news into its search engine. But everything needs to point back towards those ads.
So in theory, You.com could end up offering services that are closer to what users really need. Google could see the threat - could even have the capabilities ready to react - and still miss the moment. It simply cannot countenance taking a hit to ad revenues with no viable alternative lined up.
That is only one little corner of this picture, however.
Even if You.com did offer better search results, the best product does not always win. Companies need product competency to compete, naturally, but that expertise is not enough in isolation.
People may say they are sick of Google, but will they really adopt a new search engine?
Friction theory suggests we ask the following four questions:
Does this new product represent a major change from the status quo? If yes, existing users will experience inertia.
How much effort would it require for people to adopt this change?
Would making this change lead to negative feelings in the users?
Does the audience feel pressured to change, or are they making the change willingly?
A new rival would need a commited base of users that could persuade others to join. Slack knew this: It shared its software with a small number of influential developers, who went on to become evangelists for the product. Eventually, Slack reached a tipping point and it became the default way of working in many industries. Bottom-up change works well when mass adoption is restricted by inertia.
An alternative search engine will need to understand the importance of friction theory in why we use Google today. Just like with Facebook, people do not need to like the company or even its products to keep using them.
In its current iteration, You.com says it is different from Google and it clearly is in some regards. It just isn’t different enough in the areas that matter.
What we’re reading this week
NFT makers are trying to make the next Disney - The Verge
Ericsson wants half its 102,000 staff to work from home - Bloomberg
“Zillow had a business model which could monetize machine learning. They failed because they overestimated their capabilities and underestimated the complexity of executing.”
Google and PBS launch a media literacy program to combat misinformation - Engadget
The Unintended Economist: How Thorstein Veblen Pivoted From Philosophy to Economics - Pro Market
The comedy wildlife photography awards: gallery of finalists - Comedy Wildlife Photos