Is there any point in launching a search engine in 2021? Marc Benioff thinks so.

The Salesforce founder thinks it's time for a "next-generation search engine platform." Enter CEO Richard Socher

CEO Richard Socher says wants to flank DuckDuckGo on both convenience and privacy.


Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff has been holding onto the "" domain name since 1996. He purchased it in Hawaii while taking a sabbatical from Oracle. Only recently did Benioff stumble upon a project seemingly worthy of the name:, a privacy-focused search engine that Benioff called "the future of search." launched its public beta Tuesday. It also announced a $20 million seed funding round led by Marc Benioff's TIME Ventures. Breyer Capital, Sound Ventures and Day One Ventures also participated in the funding round.

Any new search engine provider must answer the obvious question: What makes your product any better than Google?

"We provide so much more convenience and still have better privacy in the moments that you want it," CEO Richard Socher said in an interview with Protocol. Socher, who previously served as chief scientist at Salesforce, described Google as "pretty terrible when it comes to privacy." He added that Google wouldn't be able to compete with on the privacy front since "they make too much money invading everyone's privacy." has publicly committed to never sell user data through targeted ads. It doesn't generate money and has instead focused on growth and product development. However, Socher said the company "may have to keep our options open when it comes to other ways to monetize." He said has creative ideas for monetization that go "beyond privacy-preserving ads like DuckDuckGo has," but declined to comment further.

If Google is the elephant in the room for, then DuckDuckGo might be best described as the other person scrambling to pick up stray peanuts when the elephant isn't looking.

Both DuckDuckGo and partner with Bing on some search results. And DuckDuckGo, like, insists there needn't be a trade-off between privacy and the user search experience. In August, DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg told Protocol: "It is embedded in people's minds that there has to be a trade-off. But we don't think it's true."

But wants to flank DuckDuckGo on both convenience and privacy. It's attempting to do so by offering two search modes: default and incognito. Unlike DuckDuckGo,'s default mode knows user identities and is therefore able to tie searches together. It also logs analytics for search history, usage data, diagnostics and other data. On the flip side, claims its incognito actually offers more privacy than DuckDuckGo's standard search option since it doesn't store searches at all.

Google executives likely aren't losing much sleep over the competitive threat posed by DuckDuckGo, so it's worth asking why would be any different. Socher himself described's two main target personas as developers and privacy-aware users. But you don't launch a vegan, gluten-free fast food chain and expect to take down McDonald's. DuckDuckGo already targets the privacy-minded demographic, and it averages over 100 million searches a day. There's clearly demand for a more privacy-preserving search engine, but that still pales in comparison to Google's estimated search volume in the billions of queries per day.

Aside from privacy, aims to attract users by differentiating the actual search experience. Search results are divided vertically by apps; people can scroll horizontally within those apps to browse results. Apps include services such as Stack Overflow, Amazon, Twitter, Reddit, LinkedIn, Medium and The New York Times. only reorders results within some of the apps. For instance, it has a partnership with Medium and reorders its results, but with Twitter it just relays the search results as they would appear on the site. Socher explained, "because Twitter is very large, it would cost a lot of money to try to index all of it, rank it all and sort it all." uses AI and neural networks to guess which apps would be most relevant to each search. It serves them up accordingly and also takes into account users' stated preference for apps. That means it knows not to serve up the Spotify app if someone is searching for a burrito. uses AI and neural networks to guess which apps would be most relevant to each search.Image:

Socher described the overall search experience as "very different to [what] anyone else [has offered] in the last 20 years in search." He said Google's search experience was "nowhere near as useful" and described it as "50% … white space and then you have a bunch of blue links."

Though Socher is confident in's product and positioning, he acknowledges that the company still has a long road ahead. Monetization is a huge outstanding question, at least for those who aren't privy to the internal ideas floating around the team. Socher said they want to expand internationally even though "our language support is really quite limited." For now, is only available in the U.S. also doesn't yet have a mobile app. Socher conceded that "the experience on mobile is not that good yet."

The $20 million in seed funding will go a long way toward helping address these shortcomings. The company is still small but wants to grow significantly over the next couple of months. And it's promising enough, at least, that Benioff bestowed a domain name he purchased way back when what we now know as Google might still have become ""

Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep ReadingShow less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep ReadingShow less
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep ReadingShow less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep ReadingShow less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.


Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

Keep ReadingShow less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories