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Investor Michael Seibel Explains Google’s Search Quality Decline And How It’s Creating Opportunities

Investor Michael Seibel Explains Google’s Search Quality Decline And How It’s Creating Opportunities

Seibel search

Y Combinator CEO and Partner Michael Seibel speaks onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco at Moscone Center, Oct. 2, 2019. (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch) https://flic.kr/p/2hpiQ51

During Y Combinator accelerator program’s most recent semi-annual Demo Day, one founder claimed, “We’re building a better search engine than Google!”

YC picked 1,307 companies out of 16,000-plus applicants to pitch the investment community on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1. Each company founder had one minute to make a pitch that could land them a ticket to startup heaven.

Using a new model for funding early-stage startups, Y Combinator has helped launch more than 3,000 companies. These include Stripe, Airbnb, DoorDash, Coinbase, Instacart, Dropbox and Reddit. By January 2021, the combined valuation of top YC companies exceeded $300 billion.

Each year, YC invests $125,000 each in 300 to 400 startups, working with the chosen companies for three months to help them refine their pitch to investors. Each cycle culminates in Demo Day, when the startups pitch to investors.

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Michael Seibel is partner and CEO at the Silicon Valley-based Y Combinator. Before joining YC in 2013, Seibel co-founded Justin.tv, which became Twitch Interactive and eventually sold to Amazon for $970 million. He also co-founded Socialcam, which participated in Y Combinator, raised angel financing, and ultimately sold to Autodesk Inc. for $60 million.

Building a better search engine than Google has been on Seibel’s mind, according to a long Twitter thread he posted on Jan. 2. In it, Seibel complained of “clickbait sites riddled with crappy ads.” He invited followers to reply to the thread with the categories where they “no longer trust” Google Search results.

Seibel tweeted, “A recent small medical issue has highlighted how much someone needs to disrupt Google Search. Google is no longer producing high quality search results in a significant number of important categories.

“Health, product reviews, recipes are three categories I searched today where top results featured clickbait sites riddled with crappy ads. I’m sure there are many more. Feel free to reply to the thread with the categories where you no longer trust Google Search results.”

Seibel placed the blame for poor quality results not on engineers but on “some suit responsible for quarterly ad revenue increase.” He predicted that such short-term thinking would open Google to “complete disruption” in the long term.

“I’m pretty sure the engineers responsible for Google Search aren’t happy about the quality of results either,” Seibel tweeted. “I’m wondering if this isn’t really a tech problem but the influence of some suit responsible for quarterly ad revenue increases.”

He continued, “What would a paid version of Google Search results look like – where Google can just try to give me the best possible results and not be worried about generating revenue? Also, how can a search category be SEO’d into ruin? Isn’t search engine optimization supposed to produce ‘better results’? Doesn’t Google exclusively control the results it displays…. “

Seibel described how Google could be ripe for disruption.

“The more I think about this, the more it looks like classic short term thinking. Juice ad revenue in the short run. Open the door to complete disruption in the long run…” Seibel wrote.

“This is why no software incumbent is truly protected from startup disruption. Inevitably the rot of a bad incumbent product starts from within…”

Seibel then launched into questions about network effects — a phenomenon in which the value of a product depends on the number of users who leverage it.

Google’s public search liaison, Danny Sullivan, replied to Seibel.

“Sorry to hear this. We’re always looking to keep improving our results. If you’re comfortable sharing any of the queries you found disappointing, happy to pass those on so we can look into them…”

Seibel responded, “I purposely asked people to share their experience so I hope that provides many examples. To be honest though – I’m sure all the people on your team have examples as well.”

Some Twitter users responded to Seibel with conventional wisdom. “You should not be googling if you have a health i ssue,” tweeted TFA Shorty@yuckycatbreath.

“Google Search worked so well early on because its analysis relied on links among sites that were highly correlated with search result relevance independent of commercial motives. Now those patterns are lost in the wilderness of adversarial SEO” tweeted Tim Sweeney.

“Google knows this is an existential threat, and they have the best technical minds working on it – the problem is the game, as it’s set, is unwinnable. Outmatched in a heavily adversarial environment defending free content discovery for the West” tweeted Stefan Mai @iamnafets

Google started out with good intentions to organize the world’s information, wrote Sari Azout, an angel investor and founder of startupy.world. Now it has “turned into a business focusing most of its resources on monetizing clicks to support advertisers rather than focusing on the search experience for people.”

Seibel quoted from Azout’s article: “With the advent of Google AdWords, it became profitable to put out shitty content that passed as informative and filled Google’s search engine results.” 

DuckDuckGo is an internet search engine alternative that emphasizes protecting searchers’ privacy and avoiding personalized search results. It does not show search results from content farms. DuckDuckGo is funded by 18 investors including, most recently, Thrive Capital and HOF Capital, according to Crunchbase.

It’s the fourth-largest search engine in the U.S. with 1.61 percent of market share, making it David vs. Goliath Google, which occupies 87.6 percent of the market.

DuckDuckGo works much the same way as any other search engine. It combines data from hundreds of sources including Wikipedia, Bing and Wolfram Alpha, with its own web crawler, to give you the most relevant results, wrote James Temperton from Wired. Google does exactly the same thing on a larger scale. The key difference, Temperton said, is that DuckDuckGo does not store IP addresses or user information and it doesn’t track you.

Photo: Y Combinator CEO and Partner Michael Seibel speaks onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco at Moscone Convention Center, Oct. 2, 2019. (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch), https://flic.kr/p/2hpiQ51

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