The startup search company Neeva promised users an ad-free search experience. It delivered, but then circumstances changed. A tale from the AI shakeout.
Neeva seems to be yet another case where consumer behavior is almost directly at odds with supposed preferences: they always say they value privacy and are willing to pay, but there's a long list of startups who - even with more creative user acquisition - ended up proving that behavior doesn't match their survey responses. With each case, it becomes harder for others in the future to convince investors to make that bet.
What a blast to reread "Living With A Computer." I will never forget the single most exciting thing about first using a word processor (in 1985): footnotes. The program automatically fit notes on the pages, and when one added or deleted a footnote, all the subsequent notes were automatically renumbered!!
I too tried Neeva, on your recommendation, but for the way I use search terms and the things I look for, I didn't see a dramatic difference. Your example of "T-shirts" isn't a thing I'd search for.
The most common way I search is via Google Maps (e.g. restaurants, locations, addresses, routes) or through Google Patents (for my day job), and Neeva had nothing like either of these.
In the rare searches where "sponsored" links show up in Google, they are (or seem to be) marked, so scrolling down isn't that big a chore.
So, no compelling Neeva use case for me - I signed on but haven't touched it in months and months. Sort of sad they couldn't make a go of it, but I'm not surprised.
Neeva was terrific. If I had known they needed recruitment, I would have praised and linked to it on Twitter. In any case, I now do most of my initial searches on Bing Chat Creative. (Which, I see, is acquiring ads, so far under the main response.) Thanks for the update, Jim.
Very sad indeed. I tried to help them a bit with infosec because I believed so much in their vision, and assess they were doing very well in that area compared to typical startups.
Why do you say this was a consequence of "AI shakeout"? I very much look forward to the future essay after your further conversation with the founders.
I concur with your disappointment and so many of the comments offered thus far. I am among those who tried Neeva initially after your suggestion, didn't really get hooked enough to become a paying user, but then tried again when "Neeva Gist" became available as their AI/LLM-enhanced Android app.
That said, I was a bit surprised that neither you nor your other readers referenced the elephant in the room: Twitter. The alternatives - from Notes here on Substack to the various flavors of Mastodon to Post.news and Spoutible and others that I have not tried yet all seem more attractive in the first degree and yet... and yet Twitter still seems to rule the arena independently of the twists and turns in the new proprietor's machinations.
I do think "Notes" is different because of the preexisting foundation offered by contributors like yourself, Jim... and it also is much more attractive to me than Medium even though I find interesting things on the latter platform.
I wish I had a bit of inspiration to share as to how to take things to the next level so that Twitter will become less of a primary point of referencel for open-ended information and perspective sharing... alas, I still think it's a tough call (and with the Bruins eliminated brutally and the Celtics down 3-0 after two close games lost in Boston and a horrid performance in Miami, I'm not in a mood to look for miracles at the moment...)
The news that Neeva is ceasing operations breaks my heart.
This saddens me. I, too, signed up for Neeva on your recommendation, and changed all of my defaults. I mostly preferred it to the Google results, though there were times, not often, that Google would find something Neeva did not. But it was wonderful being out from under the ads. I wonder how many people would buy in if Google offered a subscription model at a reasonable fee to be free of the ad-driven results...
I will say that, even ignoring the ads, the results I get from web search over the years have dramatically declined in usefulness. I suspect (I'm not even close to being an expert) that it has to do with SEO manipulations. The internet overall, like the products of the increasingly behemoth titans of IT, feels less and less useful, and more and more like hands inside my wallet.
My 21 year old grandson has been giving me a tutorial on AI. [As a kid I recall communicating with two tin cans and a string.]
What I found truly frightening was Ross Andersen’s article in The Atlantic in which he described, in excruciating detail, how AI could reduce the response time to a possible nuclear attack to nanoseconds. Also, because of counter cyber developments, how such a response might be left to machines and/or some person at a nuclear base or on a nuclear sub.
As a former professor my concern about student AI essays is of a lower timbre. In the pre-AI days I could sense student plagiarism (I maintained student portfolios). I would speak to the student and then ask him/her to pronounce and define a fancy word in the essay. BINGO!
Sorry to see this. I subscribed after you mentioned it, but I ended up going back to Google after a while (sorry!) because the lag time was just too slow--sometimes several seconds. Am I a victim of our "I want it NOW NOW NOW" culture? Maaaaaybe. But there's one data point for you.
In 1979 we were writing and re-writing operations and training manuals. My Darlene was named Lynn, a full timer, and she could make an IBM Selectric do magic tricks. What she couldn't do was produce pages in Jeppesen size and format, or afterward come up with an index by key word or adjust pages for graphics after the fact and still have time to eat, sleep or leave her desk. So we pitched the Lanier word processor advertised in a trade mag at our department budget meeting. No dice. And for thirty five years every one of us humped a leather case full of books and charts all over the world; today pilots carry laptops. How far we've come since then.
Thanks for the link to your 1982 article!
I acquired my first personal computer in 1984: an Osborne Executive (with a whopping 5” yellow CRT and dual floppy drives). The company was already going bankrupt by then, due to its disastrous forward marketing campaign now known as the ‘Osborne Effect’).
A fellow Purdue grad student, a member of the local Hoosier Osborne Group, (‘HOG’; get it?) scored a deal to drive to Chicago and buy as many of the OE-2 Executives as he could acquire for the incredible price of $700 each. My wife & I calculated the $ and pain to be saved in being able to write and “typeset” our own PhD theses would be worth eating beans for 2 months, so we went for it... and we’ve never been without a portable computer since then.
I think part of the challenge start ups face is to communicate what people are losing by staying with what they’ve got … with staying with “the familiar”. Saying your product is better… gives people something new matters. But saying what people are losing by staying with “what already is” matters too.
I fear we don’t realize the societal cliff we’re approaching… we can’t see it… and won’t see it until it’s too late.