Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you
Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you

In memoriam of Neeva, the search engine you didn’t know

Another search engine bites the dust, and while many are just a Google or Bing clone, Neeva strived to be different.

Competition is always a good thing, providing choice for how something works and is done, but some areas are more difficult to compete in than others.

New phones arrive every so often and sometimes even grow to do big numbers against the juggernauts that are Apple and Samsung, such as how Oppo is moving beyond its audio heritage roots, while others disappear because the results just aren’t that strong — LG, we’re looking at you.

It’s like that in much of the consumer tech world: new players drop in and out all the time across categories. Panasonic no longer releases TVs in Australia, but sells a lot of other goods, while other companies have happily filled in the void left, likely Hisense in this case, which has been growing in leaps and bounds.

In the world of search engines, competitors don’t appear at quite nearly the same rate.

There’s Google, Bing, and a few others like Duck Duck Go, but that’s largely it. Most people use Google, while Microsoft’s Bing has a little bit of share, and then the rest in the Western world is divided between much smaller players.

Typically when we make a search, we use Google. It’s the juggernaut that we identify with search in general.

But in the past year, there was another, and it had the chance to change everything about search.

The many uses for AI

Artificial intelligence is everywhere these days, from the people using ChatGPT to automate aspects of their lives to those of us using Midjourney and the like to make art seemingly out of nothing.

Technically a form of machine learning — where a computer learns instructions and forms a model of learning based on what it sees — AI has the potential to make life easier for so many, reducing the menial jobs into something you don’t need to think about.

In the past few months, uses for AI have grown in number, to the point where so many areas just can’t catch up. You can use artificial intelligence to summarise topics and build out essays, and schools are rushing to develop strategies to prevent cheating as a result. Meanwhile, AI can be used for more.

Workers in medical fields are using AI to help write patient reports, a new AI tool might help predict Parkinson’s, an AI suitcase is helping guide blind people, and a whole lot more.

And then there’s search.

Enter Neeva, an AI-enhanced search engine

Artificial intelligence and machine learning has been in search for so long, but it’s largely been a behind the scenes sort of thing.

There are so many factors that define a position on a search results page, that search engine companies need AI to help them sort through it all, analysing the copy, the author, and every factor that goes into defining the regular change that is a rank.

In fact, when this journalist isn’t writing about technology or building budgeting apps, he’s an SEO Specialist, a position that sees him analysing the content and technical needs of a website to secure positions on Google and engines like it.

But Neeva was different.

A search engine where the AI was forward facing as opposed to simply behind the scenes, Neeva used language and learning models to build a response to questions and highlighted where its sources came from.

It’s an important point because it meant the sources were just as useful as the information it compiled, and provided a means for users to prove what the AI was saying.

Neeva did other things, too. It advertised itself as ad-free and private, and so felt a little different from the perpetual view of never-ending ads most search experiences have granted us where you always feel as if you’re the product.

Neeva could interpret a search question and show where it gathered its resources from.
Neeva could interpret a search question and show where it gathered its resources from.

Exit Neeva, the search engine you never used or heard of

Unfortunately, competing with the juggernaut search engines isn’t easy, and it’s causing the death of another.

From June 2, Neeva will join the graveyard of dead products, as its flavour of AI-enhanced search disappears with the rest of the search system.

It’s yet another search engine you never used or even heard of, joining the likes of Dogpile and AltaVista, which if you can remember, may suggest you’re as old as this journalist.

AI search is here to stay

However AI search is going nowhere, with Google and Bing alike improving on its algorithms and uses for AI, whether it comes in the form of a search-aided AI assistant or yet more integration of machine learning in search.

There is a lot of work that goes into understanding how items appear on a search results page, and it’s always changing. It can range from the copy on the page, the name of the website, the speed of the website and the specific page, how quickly people jump on and off the page, the title, the author and their experience, the links to and from these, and so on and so on.

Clearly, search engines are going to use AI to make search just that more usable long term. It’s just the Neeva won’t be one of them from here on in.

Google's Bard can summarise search results, but it doesn't always cite where it drew that information from.
Google’s Bard can summarise search results, but it doesn’t always cite where it drew that information from.
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