Well, this is a case of “didn’t see that coming,” but search engine toolkit company Ahrefs just told me they’ve been working on their own search engine, Yep, without telling anyone. They’ve put $60 million into it. It is a unique idea to have its own search index instead of using APIs from Google or Bing.
— TechCrunch (@TechCrunch) June 3, 2022
How about the name? I don’t know, Yep seems pretty stupid to me, but at least the name is one character shorter than Bing, which is the other big search engine I’ll only ever use by accident. Yep is taking a new approach to online advertising, despite its name. It says that it gives 90 percent of its ad revenue to content creators. It’s a pretty elegant pitch:
“Let’s say the biggest search engine in the world makes $100B a year. Now, imagine if they gave $90B to content creators and publishers,” the company describes the future it wants to live in. “Wikipedia’s content could probably bring in a few billion dollars a year. They could stop asking for donations and pay the people who edit their articles a fair wage.
It’s an impressively crazy way to fight for the company Ahrefs that started with nothing. Its CEO explains why he thinks this is a good idea:
“People who make search results possible should be paid for what they do. We saw how YouTube’s model of sharing profits helped the whole industry of making videos grow. Dmytro Gerasymenko, founder and CEO of Ahrefs, says, “By splitting advertising profits 90/10 with content authors, we want to encourage the search industry to treat talent fairly.” He also says that his search engine is designed to put privacy first. “We do keep some information about searches, but never in a way that could be used to find out who did them. For example, we will keep track of how often a word is searched for and where the link that gets the most clicks is located. But we won’t make a profile of you to send you ads.”
It might sound a little too idealistic, but damn it, that’s what made me excited about Yep in the first place. It’s the faintest echo of a web that was more innocent and hopeful than the cesspool of fake news and chaos that social media has turned the web into today.
I was a little surprised to hear that the company decided to build its own data centers. It says it has already built more than 1,000 servers that store more than 100 petabytes of data. It’s an odd choice since cloud-based solutions are usually more flexible, but Gerasymenko has a plan for that too. He says that cloud-based solutions are much more expensive for such a large infrastructure, with the goal of having hundreds or thousands of high-end servers running at full capacity 24/7.
This project didn’t start with a search engine, of course, because the company already had a huge amount of data from its regular business. Ahrefs has been crawling the web and storing information about it for 12 years to make its main product, an SEO toolset, for its customers. Its own crawler, AhrefsBot, powers the search results. The company says that AhrefsBot visits more than 8 billion web pages every 24 hours. The company says the new search engine will be available in all countries and in most languages.
So, uh, $60 million without investment from outside? Where did all of that money come from? The company says that it put the money it made from its paid subscriptions back into the business. The company says it makes $100 million a year from its more than 50,000 customers, but it hasn’t taken any outside investment yet. The main office of the company is in Singapore, where 90 people work. There are 11 people working on the search engine project, including data scientists, backend engineers, and front-end developers. The company tells me that Gerasymenko is helping to build the search engine himself.