Google dominates the search market, but smaller search engines are focusing on its weak spot to try and lure people away
There’s a new search engine in town, and it’s the latest in a long line of competitors hoping to shave off just a sliver of Google’s billion-dollar search business.
The website is called You — not to be confused with the pronoun or the Netflix show staring Penn Badgley. The company hopes a combination of summarizing other sites’ results, similar to Google, and a private browsing mode will be enough to lure in casual searchers. Instead of a list of links, You’s results are sorted into rows, with each having a carousel of options from sites such as Twitter, Reddit and BBC, or types like images and traditional search results. The eventual idea, says the company, is to use artificial intelligence to give a more customized results page that people don’t need to leave.
The search engine is launching as a public beta on Tuesday at You.com and is notable for the Silicon Valley money behind it. It’s backed by Salesforce founder Marc Benioff and has raised $20 million in funding.
Like many smaller search services, You relies heavily on other engines such as Yelp’s catalogue of businesses, LinkedIn’s catalogue of people who’ve had jobs and Wikipedia’s catalogue of facts. While it does index some of its own content, You is also partnering with Microsoft’s search engine Bing for some results. In the future, sites could customize their own results boxes, says the company.
On You, the fully private “incognito” mode is opt-in and means it is not collecting data. If you search in regular mode, it does collect data to customize your results but has no targeted ads.
In fact, the company has no plans for making any money at this time, says co-founder and chief executive Richard Socher in an interview, which frees it up to not have any ads at all. For now the product is a webpage, You.com, and a browser extension, and it only does searches in English.
Socher thinks the entire economy is moving online, and there’s still one gatekeeper: Google. “They’re invading privacy to squeeze out more and more performance,” he said.
The problem for You — and any new search company — is how tight Google’s stranglehold is on the market. Launching a search engine as an unknown start-up is like a toy car trying to take on a Ferrari.
Google has dominated the market for so long, its name is interchangeable with the word “search” and it is the default search option on most browsers and phones. The 23-year old search engine consistently has nearly 90 percent of the market share in the United States, while Microsoft’s Bing comes in second with around 6 percent, according to data from StatCounter.
Below those two, smaller rivals are seizing on Google’s weak point —growing concerns around privacy.
Most well known is DuckDuckGo, which is notable for not collecting people’s data, such as search histories. The site has been around for 13 years but gained visibility as people became aware of the trade off they make for “free” Internet services including Google and Facebook. Other options playing up privacy include Brave, which launched a privacy-focused search engine to run on its browser earlier this year, and Ecosia, which invests its profits in planting trees and claims it is “privacy friendly.”
“We know consumers are becoming increasingly privacy aware and privacy sensitive,” said Collin Colburn, a senior analyst at Forrester. “But at the end of the day I think the calculation that consumers make is, Google’s utility to me outweighs the privacy risks.”
It’s a hard switch to make because of how many computer, smartphone and browser settings default to Google, and we’ve become accustomed to the way Google presents information, Colburn said.
To take on Google, a competitor would either need to genuinely innovate beyond just imitating what Google has already done or be a company that has a huge amount of control over what consumers do already, like Apple. Until then, alternative engines are doing the best they can — trying to make a dent.
“Anything showing up as a blip is meaningful at this point,” Colburn said.
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