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 You.com.

You.com CEO Richard Socher

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

Photo: You.com

Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff has been holding onto the "you.com" 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: You.com, a privacy-focused search engine that Benioff called "the future of search."

You.com 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 You.com on the privacy front since "they make too much money invading everyone's privacy."

You.com 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 You.com 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 You.com, 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 You.com partner with Bing on some search results. And DuckDuckGo, like You.com, 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 You.com 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, You.com'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, You.com 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 You.com would be any different. Socher himself described You.com'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, You.com 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.

You.com 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."

You.com 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.

You.com uses AI and neural networks to guess which apps would be most relevant to each search.Image: You.com

Socher described the overall You.com 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 You.com'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 You.com team. Socher said they want to expand internationally even though "our language support is really quite limited." For now, You.com is only available in the U.S. You.com 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 You.com 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 "BackRub.com."
Policy

We’ll be here again: How tech companies fail to prevent terrorism

Social media platforms are playing defense to stop mass shootings. Without cooperation and legislation, it’s not working.

The Buffalo attack showed that tech’s best defenses against online hate aren’t sophisticated enough to fight the algorithms designed by those same companies to promote content.

Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Tech platforms' patchwork approach to content moderation has made them a hotbed for hate speech that can turn deadly, as it did this weekend in Buffalo. The alleged shooter that killed 10 in a historically Black neighborhood used Discord to plan his rampage for months and livestreamed it on Twitch.

The move mirrors what happened in Christchurch, New Zealand, when a white supremacist murdered 51 people in a mosque in 2019. He viewed the killings as a meme. To disseminate that meme, he turned to the same place more than 1 billion other users do: Facebook. This pattern is destined to repeat itself as long as tech companies continue to play defense instead of offense against online hate and fail to work together.

Keep Reading Show less
Sarah Roach

Sarah Roach is a news writer at Protocol (@sarahroach_) and contributes to Source Code. She is a recent graduate of George Washington University, where she studied journalism and mass communication and criminal justice. She previously worked for two years as editor in chief of her school's independent newspaper, The GW Hatchet.

Sponsored Content

Foursquare data story: leveraging location data for site selection

We take a closer look at points of interest and foot traffic patterns to demonstrate how location data can be leveraged to inform better site selecti­on strategies.

Imagine: You’re the leader of a real estate team at a restaurant brand looking to open a new location in Manhattan. You have two options you’re evaluating: one site in SoHo, and another site in the Flatiron neighborhood. Which do you choose?

Keep Reading Show less
Enterprise

SAP’s leadership vacuum on display with Hasso Plattner’s last stand

Conflict of interest questions, blowback to the Ukraine response and a sinking stock price hang in the backdrop of Plattner’s last election to the SAP supervisory board.

Plattner will run for a final two-year transition term atop SAP’s supervisory board.

Photo: Soeren Stache/picture alliance via Getty Images

Just one man has been with SAP over its entire 50-year history: co-founder Hasso Plattner. Now, the 78-year-old software visionary is making his last stand.

On Wednesday, Plattner will run for a final two-year transition term atop SAP’s supervisory board, an entity mandated by law in Germany that basically oversees the executive team. Leaders at SAP, for example, report to the supervisory board, not the CEO.

Keep Reading Show less
Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a writer-at-large at Protocol. He previously covered enterprise software for Protocol, Bloomberg and Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JoeWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

Enterprise

Why Google Cloud is providing security for AWS and Azure users too

“To just focus on Google Cloud, we wouldn't be serving our customers,” Google Cloud security chief Phil Venables told Protocol.

Google Cloud announced the newest addition to its menu of security offerings.

Photo: G/Unsplash

In August, Google Cloud pledged to invest $10 billion over five years in cybersecurity — a target that looks like it will be easily achieved, thanks to the $5.4 billion deal to acquire Mandiant and reported $500 million acquisition of Siemplify in the first few months of 2022 alone.

But the moves raise questions about Google Cloud’s main goal for its security operation. Does Google want to offer the most secure cloud platform in order to inspire more businesses to run on it — or build a major enterprise cybersecurity products and services business, in whatever environment it’s chosen?

Keep Reading Show less
Kyle Alspach

Kyle Alspach ( @KyleAlspach) is a senior reporter at Protocol, focused on cybersecurity. He has covered the tech industry since 2010 for outlets including VentureBeat, CRN and the Boston Globe. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and can be reached at kalspach@procotol.com.

Workplace

The tools that make you pay for not getting stuff done

Some tools let you put your money on the line for productivity. Should you bite?

Commitment contracts are popular in a niche corner of the internet, and the tools have built up loyal followings of people who find the extra motivation effective.

Photoillustration: Anna Shvets/Pexels; Protocol

Danny Reeves, CEO and co-founder of Beeminder, is used to defending his product.

“When people first hear about it, they’re kind of appalled,” Reeves said. “Making money off of people’s failure is how they view it.”

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

Latest Stories
Bulletins