: New:

Neeva's shutting down. Neeva was a subscription-funded search company, in contrast to the usual free-with-ads search.

I used Neeva for a while; it cleared up something I was curious about, poked a hole in some received wisdom.

Back when I worked at Google, part of the company echo chamber chatter was that collecting user data was useful for personalized search, not just useful for ads. The usual example: if the user searches for [jaguar], it's not immediately clear which sense of the word they're interested in, car or cat. But if you've remembered the user's recent searches, you might know which sense of "jaguar" they're interested in; if they recently searched for directions to the zoo, show them the cat; if they recently searched for [fiat], show them the car. I nodded along; this sounded reasonable. But as I paid attention to my searches, it eventually dawned on me that I didn't actually make any ambiguous searches like [jaguar].

But I wasn't 100% sure. Maybe I thought [how many minutes steam yam] was unambiguous, but maybe that's because Google was kindly steering me to the recipe pages, and steering me away from some pages with some hypothetical other sense of yam steaming. (If there are other meanings of "steaming yams," please don't tell me. I have delicate sensibilities.)

One of Neeva's features was that it didn't try to figure out your interests from your searches, nice from a privacy point of view. I used it to figure out whether my web searches were ambiguous.

They weren't. Apparently, my searches are clear and unambiguous. I guess that's true for pretty much everybody.

Sure, the word "hulk" is ambiguous: could be the superhero or just a word for something big. But if I'm searching the internet for something, I'm probably not thinking it should be something big, but I don't especially care what that something is. That's not really something people do. The word "hulk" is ambiguous, but the web search [hulk] is almost certainly about the superhero.

Anyhow, pour one out for Neeva.