Colin Pape on Google: “Tell the guy who’s had his business eradicated by an unintended consequence it’s not evil”br>
Presearch is a decentralized, community-driven search engine built on the blockchain and seeking to disrupt the multi-billion dollar Internet search industry. Presearch’s transparent ranking factors combine human curation with scalable machine learning, a contrast to manipulated algorithm-driven methods standard among today’s industry giants. In a world in which one company controls 77 percent of all searches, influencing trillions in spending and acting as a primary gatekeeper to the Internet, the need for a new, community-driven search engine is a necessity. Already in use since 2013 as an internal tool, Presearch will launch in beta in September, 2017.
“While Google is generally thought of as a neutral entity for search, the company answers to Wall Street and operates very secretively,” said Colin Pape, who founded Presearch and previously launched community commerce platform ShopCity.com. “They’ve become known for promoting themselves at the expense of alternatives and appropriating others’ information, blaming it on ‘the algorithm.’ The reality is that they manipulate results and justify changes as being best for the user. With Presearch, I wanted to flip that business model on its head and put power over information back into the hands of all internet users.”
By rewarding members for using, promoting, and contributing to the Presearch platform, the company will create a scalable “Wikipedia for search” to discover the best content for each inquiry. Presearch’s curation and overall development of the platform is incentivized with the Presearch Token (PST). A community-based decision-making process ensures everyone’s interests are aligned. The Presearch community can also vote on and fund new development projects, continually optimizing the platform.
Founder Colin Pape discussed the project with Block Tribune, and revealed a very interesting origin story for his interest in taking on the big boys….
BLOCK TRIBUNE: What is your stance on free speech?
COLIN PAPE: There’s a great question. Obviously, it’s a little complex subject. But I’m definitely pretty hardcore Libertarian. I don’t think there is too much that I would consider to be against, speech that should be silenced. It’s a slippery slope, the whole concept of thought-crime and everything. I don’t know if you’re kind of thinking of James Damore or if you’re thinking of some of the other stuff potentially that’s happened over the past couple of weeks, but …
BLOCK TRIBUNE: Well, that’s exactly what I’m thinking of because things are starting to be removed from the Internet based on stances that are unpopular. So, I’m wondering how you will approach this?
COLIN PAPE: I mean, obviously, it’s tricky. I think especially when you’re a company that’s so centralized, like Google, and I think that, really, the beauty of the decentralization movement is (A) You can kind of let the community be more of a participant in the decisions; but (B) I think there’s actually less pressure than having a really centralized model.
Google feels like they are that entity and that entity is being represented by the content and by the actions of some of the people who are associated with it and they can’t stand the thought of that bad PR. Whereas, a company or an entity that’s more decentralized, I don’t think there’s quite that pressure to have that resistance to bad PR because there isn’t one central singular that’s being reflected upon. I definitely (feel that) anything that’s, you know … child pornography, anything like that, that is pretty clearly morally reprehensible and really, there’s just no excuse. Anyway that you look at it, I don’t know that that kind of content is an opinion. But I think anything that’s intellectual in nature, I really don’t see how you could classify that in the same way, and so I think our stint is going to be, “Let the users decide what content they want to see and what degree they want to be isolated from certain content.” But that centrally, there really isn’t going to be any centralized mechanism to take that kind of content out.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: Okay. Flipping that on its head, there has been some artificial intelligence experiments that have not turned out well because trolls have gotten in an dsort of gamed the works. How are you regulating your community? Or will you at all? And then if things quickly go south and it deteriorates, what are your plans?
COLIN PAPE: Yeah, again, another great question. I think that it’s in respect to Facebook, thoughts that were shut down. And so then, you end up getting these thoughts that are being trained in a way other than what was intended. I think that’s going to be one of the biggest challenges for anybody that’s using strict AI. I currently don’t know that we have the perfect answer at this point. I mean, if a company like Facebook, with billions of dollars and some of the brightest minds, is still struggling with it, I don’t think we’re going to be immune to it.
Overall, I think our approach is going to be heavily weighing on the human community. I think that as much as bots and anything, where you’re just trying to get that scale of true artificial intelligence, I think of, certainly, an application for it. I also think that humans are obviously the ultimate in intelligence. We’re not artificial and I think there’s a way to really empower humanity to participate in a lot of these systems to a much higher degree than they are right now. Everybody’s always trying to look to reduce costs, and so that’s primarily one of the main drivers for using AI, because you can skip humans pretty well. So it’s more about the cost of natural ability to scale, although that certainly factors into it as well. But there’s some really bright humans out there, and I think humans can be organized in a way that can make them really efficient and able to be skilled. So, for us, really, the more humans that are involved in the system, the better. Because what we’re trying to do is build an ecosystem. We’re not trying to minimize humans. We’ll try to supplement humans where we need to, either because we have a hard time attracting talent to the ecosystem, or if it’s someone that is strictly monotonous. But I think we’re going to approach it in a different way than a lot of these guys, where it’s just about minimizing the number of humans.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: What is your background?
COLIN PAPE: I studied computer science at school in the late ’90’s, early 2000’s. Ended up dropping out just because the Internet was blowing up and what we were learning wasn’t seemingly that relevant. And I basically started off as a web developer back in the late 90’s. I started building websites for the local businesses. Walmart and Home Depot came into my home community. I’m from a small town. They came in around ’99, 2000, and all the business owners were really just fearful that they were going to be forgotten and that they were going to lose their livelihoods. And so I sort of came up with this whole “Shop local” concept and started a site called shopmidland.com. Really did this kind of grassroots community marketing for that site, and then it went really well. Everybody was very receptive. Businesses were getting great value and so I started offering the model out to some neighboring communities. Then kind of built a model for how that could be offered on a licensing or franchise-like model to communities everywhere and looking at how we could build a domain portfolio. Basically, shopcity.com was born and we ended up securing about 8,000 urls of shopnewyork.com, shopboston.com. About 85% of the communities in the English-speaking world, and basically have been working on that business since 2000 as kind of a primary business.
And then as part of that company in 2011 we just ran into this challenge with Google. Basically, overnight, our sites were … not quite all of them, but almost all of them, were blocked from the Google index. They were penalized and put on the page four to eight and so our search traffic dropped like 80%, 90% overnight, and we had no idea why. We started trying to get it sorted out with Google. I couldn’t get a response. Couldn’t really even find anybody to talk to. Just kept getting referred to the webmaster help forums where there are no official Google representatives and so out of that kind of experience I really saw the dark side of Google. The lack of transparency and, really, just the lack of a model to handle any kind of disputes or issues that arise. Fortunately, we were able to, through the press, get a bit of a resolution with Google and kind of get things rectified. But there are thousands and thousands of companies that we became exposed to through this process that were not able to achieve the press that we were ,and so remain, basically, delisted from Google, and lost millions of dollars in business and had to let people go or sometimes go bankrupt.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: Ultimately, what was the reason for your issue?
COLIN PAPE: Well, what we discovered, kind of after the fact, basically not so much a malicious thing, mostly likely. Although at the time we didn’t really know and because of the position that they’re in where they’re competing against just about everybody. Anybody who’s in the information space, Google is your competitor, and they have a product similar to shopcity.com with Google My Business or Google Local at the time as it was called. City tours where they were trying to go city by city and we thought, who knows, did we get smoked because we’re competition?
Well, after the fact we kind of traced that Google has manual penalty assessors. People who review the site or the link quality and they will basically manually assess the penalty. So, it’s really not about the algorithm. They do employ humans as well, although they would have you believe it’s all about the algorithm. Well, basically, what happened is they have this team of manual penalty assessors in India. We had a real problem with spam at the time coming from Indian IP addresses, and so accidentally somebody had blocked an IP that we thought was a spammer. It turned out to be the Google manual penalty assessor. I guess when they came to our site and couldn’t get onto it, they just de-listed it.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: What a nightmare.
COLIN PAPE: It was. It was about three months to resolve that, and it just about put us under.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: When did you develop the vision that you were going to do a rival to Google and hopefully do a better job than what they’ve been doing?
COLIN PAPE: So about the end of 2013, like December, 2013, I just kind of came up with this Presearch concept, and did it in a slightly different way than what we’re going to end up launching with. But kind of came up with this thought of this “Switzerland of Search” and trying to create an interface where you could actually have multiple engines. And so not necessarily a meta search engine, where you’re searching multiple engines at once. But basically a single search field where you could then, just with one click onto an icon, determine which engine you would actually search, and so it has some pretty direct relevance to anybody’s life.
We are web workers, people who are on the Internet eight or 10, 12 hours a day, and you’re kind of searching some kind of common resources as part of your work flow. So, sometimes we’d be searching Google, other times we’d be doing domain lookups or searching the Nasdaq forums for Internet marketing. And so we just kind of represented each of those resources with an icon, and if you want to search one, we would just click it. And the product because very sticky. We just really used it internally. We didn’t see a particular go-to market strategy for it, because venture capitalists wouldn’t fund it and it’s part of a two-sided marketplace. Very challenging to get off the ground just organically which, we know through ShopCity it can be done, but it’s a lot of work. So we just have it kind of going in the background, and really just kind of the increasing recognition among the community that there’s a bit of a problem here with Google having so much market dominance. We started thinking, ‘Hey, I wonder if this could be a way that we can bring this to market’ and if the community would get behind it? And then we started really looking at the token model and how it could integrate, and realized it actually was a pretty fantastic business model and that it was quite viable, and so that was sort of when we started shifting focus onto Presearch.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: Is Google evil?
COLIN PAPE: I don’t think they’re necessarily evil. I think a lot of it is unintended consequences. But tell the guy who’s had his business eradicated by an unintended consequence that it’s not evil. It’s really, in effect, the same thing. So whether or not it’s part of a grand plot, which I’ve certainly questioned at times…I mean, the way that this company has just risen up and become dominant and has no resistance from any of the other traditional, anti-trust check mechanisms. The way that so many have embraced it, seemingly without question. Sometimes I wonder why they had such an easy path. But at the same time, I can also see they’ve been a tremendous resource. I’ve learned a ton from them. In some respects, we built our business because of them, and so I can see both sides of it.
I think, more than anything, it’s the unintended consequences. But because they are so big and the centralization of power is so great, those unintended consequences, they have tremendous power within the market. And I think, overall, what we need is some type of check to that power. So that’s what we’re hoping to accomplish with Presearch.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: You’re allowing people the fork your project. Tell me a little bit about that and how it will work.
COLIN PAPE: So it’s basically an open source project. We’re kind of setting the system up so that it’s really a framework for people within it to participate. So, we envisioned not having one centralized algorithm. We envisioned a system that enables multiple algorithms and so we can basically have teams of competing date scientists who can create an algorithm. Maybe it’s a generic one that spans all queries. Maybe it’s one that only spans local queries or something even more specific, and based on the feedback mechanisms within the systems, allocating more traffic, more revenue to those teams that are being rated by the community as doing a better job. And so we also envision that could be applied to all the different aspects to this system. So, a UI could be, again, generic across all searches, or more specific types of searches, and enabling those contributors to be rewarded with the token and so the whole system is basically designed to be open.
Somebody wants to go ahead and fork the whole platform if they felt we were not doing a good job, that would be something that would be their prerogative. They would be able to do that. Our hope is that we’ll do a good enough job with the core development that people want to participate within the framework, but recognize that that’s kind of the ultimate check and that the community deserves that. So it’s going to be an option.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: Beyond getting a significant number of users, what is going to help you gain traction in the market?
COLIN PAPE: So we’re looking at a number of different go-to-market strategies. I think Google’s been a tremendous resource for the consumer. But the consumer requires the producer, and I feel that Google hasn’t done as great a job even though they’ve built some Google webmaster tools and they purchased Urchin, and so we’ve got Google Analytics for free now. So there’s been some resources. But for the most part, I feel like they have kind of ignored or minimized the value of the producer within their ecosystem.
Google Analytics has almost become too much information, and it’s hard to really make sense of it. The tools that they used to offer, the Google Keywords suggestion tool, for instance. You used to be able to get some insight that would help you build a business out of that. You used to be able to get refer information within Analytics and Webmaster tools that you can no longer get. And so a lot of people are flying blind at this point and we’re putting a tremendous amount of trust in Google that things are what they appear to be or that they say they are. But we really have no way to actually kind of check that.
And then as far as just the ecosystem for producers to participate, I don’t feel like it’s as strong as it could be, and so we’re looking to really involve the producers in this ecosystem and give them the tools and we consider them more as partners, I think, than Google does. I think their extreme focus on the consumer, which is great in some respects, that they’re almost kind of forced to do that. We just recognize that consumers are also producers. Everybody needs to produce in order to consume, and so even beyond the individual level, at the company level, at the organization level, we need to somehow enable those different groups to thrive. And so we’re really looking at how our go-to-market strategy can benefit those producers and how we can help them promote their resource to push it out to the marketplace, because it’s in everybody’s best interest to have a system that is a little bit more balanced.
And so we’ve got some tools that we have in the works and certainly want to involve them and the overall decision-making process more than Google does to ensure that we’ve got kind of a good, solid playing field that everybody can participate in.
You probably heard over the years Google’s released Penguin or any of these different algorithm changes made, and they do it completely unannounced. They do it without any real feedback and it affects real people and real businesses and real jobs and it’s always just this moving target. They justify it by saying they’re combating spam. But I think that the way that they do it just really could be done in a more holistic way that doesn’t create kind of this chaos at the same time. So that’s how we’re hoping to get out there beyond just the strict user account.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: What’s your timeline and particularly when do you anticipate going for the ICO?
COLIN PAPE: We’ve started the ICO. On July 25th, we did the first lot sale. We’re calling it an early sale. So we have two hundred million tokens, which is 20% of all the available tokens. Those are available for purchase in this early sale, which is broken into five lots. The first lot was on July 25th. Second was on August 8th, and both of those sold out pretty quickly. We’re now gearing up for lot three and then lot four and lot five. All kind of between now and the end of September. And then we still have a reserve. We don’t have a date set on that sale. We’ve figured that one will be more 12-18 month kind of thing, depending on the velocity of the project.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: Are these token buyers individuals or were they institutional investors?
COLIN PAPE: It was actually mainly individuals. We have had some institutions purchase. But for the most part, we’ve actually got a ton of smaller buyers, which wasn’t intentional. The whole go-to-market strategy, because of our roots with shopcity.com and promoting the local independent businesses, we really don’t deal with any big guys within that business. And my background kind of within the independent business community, that’s just kind of what drives us. And so I think it works really well, the decentralization movement. We’ve actually had more than 2,000 token purchasers within our first two lots, which is a pretty significant number. Ultimately, we feel like we’re going to have more than ten thousand, which is a fairly high number considering the state that it’s at, and we’ve got a lot of people who we set our minimums really low so in the lot one and lot two sale, it was like $7.50 and ten bucks. A hundred tokens basically, and we’ve had people from all over the world. There’s been more than 45 countries that have purchased and we’ve got people that have put in their ten bucks and got a hundred tokens, so they kind of span the whole range.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: Would you take an investment from Google? Or Alphabet?
COLIN PAPE: No.