10 Questions with Dr. Neil Williams and Dr. Ciara Muldoon, the creators of SearchScene
SearchScene is a search engine (like Google) which gives most of its profits to environmental and humanitarian charities that are helping tackle climate change and the suffering it causes.
1. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. SearchScene is such a wholesome and unique idea. Tell us about the motivation for creating a charitable search engine.
There can hardly be a greater example of the inequity in the world than the difference between the big-tech billionaires, with their private jets and mega-yachts, and the poor, impoverished children in parts of Africa that have to walk miles each day just to get dirty water for themselves and their families. We wondered what the world would be like if, instead of continuing to prop up big tech companies, users switched to a more charitable alternative.
We all use search engines every day when we search the web and, most often, that search engine is Google. So we imagined what the world would be like if Google donated nearly all of its profits to charity, focusing on charities that fight the burning issue of our time – the climate crisis. It turns out, Google could end world hunger, replant an area the size of the Amazon rainforest and do a whole lot more besides (if it wanted to). Unfortunately, Google obviously doesn’t want to do that. So we built SearchScene – the Robin Hood of search engines that takes money that would have gone to the rich (Google) and gives it to the poor (charities).
2. You both have unique backgrounds (Neil was a Aerospace Engineer and Ciara was a science communication consultant), how did you decide that creating a charitable search engine would be the next step in your careers?
We were already involved in internet marketing and creating websites, so we were already quite techy and familiar with the anatomy of a search engine. After our daughter was born in 2017, we started worrying about the sort of world that she would grow up in and we wanted to do something to help fight the climate crisis in our own way. SearchScene is our small contribution to the fight against climate change and climate injustice.
3. According to your website, you donate 95% of profits to charities. Tell us a bit about how these profits are generated?
We make money in the same way that Google makes money – from search ads. Search ads are the ads that appear at the top and bottom of your search results. When you click on an ad, the advertiser pays us small fee. If enough people use SearchScene, then these fees can quickly add up. (You only have to look at Google’s eye-watering profits of around $86 billion to see how quickly they can add up!)
It is worth noting that our ads (like the majority of our search results) are served up by Microsoft Bing. This is because Google will not allow any charitable search engines to partner with them.
4. Do you have any favourite charities that you donate to?
We don’t really have a favourite charity. The tree-planting metric from Eden Reforestation Projects is the largest (we’ve currently planted over 81,000 trees), but that’s only because trees are cheap to plant in developing countries. All our charities do amazing work in their own field and each support multiple causes – there is also some overlap between them in many areas, such as clean drinking water, which is supplied by WaterAid, UNICEF, UNHCR and Oxfam. On a more personal level, we also donate to Greenpeace (whom Ciara has supported since she was a teenager) and to lots of smaller charities that help animals (the RSPCA – Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), and help people fighting cancer (Great Ormond Street Hospital, Cancer Research UK, Hospicecare), etc.
5. What is your relationship with the environment? How did you decide that your profits would be helping combat climate change?
We are no different to anyone else. We are deeply concerned about climate change and we watch in horror as our leaders fail us on a daily basis with their “blah, blah, blah”, bending to the will of fossil fuel lobbyists and to other countries with their own nationalistic, protectionist agendas. COP26 was a great example of this – the 26th Conference Of the Parties and the first to mention fossil fuels! Time is rapidly running out to avoid environmental tipping points that will cause cascading ecological collapse.
We all use a search engine, so a charitable search engine is a great way of empowering everyone to help tackle the causes and effects of climate change in a small way, each day. If we all work together, we can really make a difference. We are all environmentalists now.
Ciara has also been writing environmentally-themed poems since she was a teenager. You can read some of her poems (and hear Ciara recite them) on the SeachScene blog.
6. There are other charitable search engine sites out there, how does your website compare?
There are a number of great alternative charitable search engines, many with a lot more traffic than SearchScene. We’ve compared many of them to SearchScene here. The thing that really makes SearchScene stand out from the rest is the quality of our search results – we’ve devoted a lot of time to building advanced knowledge panels and instant answers into our search results. For many search queries, our knowledge panels are even better than those of Google, offering a much richer search experience.
7. What has the feedback from your users been like?
The feedback from our users has been overwhelmingly positive, mainly due to the search experience we provide. Our main Chrome browser extension is rated 4.9 out of 5 stars, with 5-stars on 95% of our ratings. Our iOS app has 4.9 out of 5 stars and our Android app has 4.7 out of 5 stars. Our users love the fact that they can search the web and raise money for charity without having to spend any of their time or money. They can also view their personal impact (such as how many trees they’ve planted) and create and join groups, so they can raise money for charity collectively. People also love the daily changing scenery that you get on our homepage (hence the name SearchScene!). It offers some respite from the usual doomscrolling!
8. Everyone should be using SearchScene for their internet searches, how are you getting the word out there about your website?
Unfortunately, getting the word out is expensive and converting people from Google to SearchScene is very tough. We’ve run ads on Google, Bing, YouTube, Reddit, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (with Google and YouTube accounting for most of our ad spend, ironically). We’ve now moved on from this and are using a couple of PR companies to help us contact journalists and outreach to businesses, universities and schools. Articles to eco-concious people, like this one in Happy Eco News, are also a great way to help get the word out.
9. What does the future hold for SearchScene?
We hope to get more schools, universities and businesses using SearchScene. Our new group impact feature lets people create public groups like schools, universities, businesses, classes, sports teams, etc., as well as private groups for friends, family, etc., so that you can raise money collectively by searching the web and viewing your collective impact. This is an easy way to help meet a company’s CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and sustainability goals, so we hope that this will appeal to many businesses out there. We are also hoping that schools will help introduce their pupils to a more ethical way of searching the web. Knowing that they are choosing to do something positive like this may also help students and employees cope with any eco-anxiety they may feel. As the saying goes, “nobody has to do everything but everybody has to do something.”
10. Do you have anything else you’d like to tell our readers?
A charitable search engine like SearchScene is an easy and free way to support charities that fight the causes and effects of climate change. SearchScene is mainly powered by Microsoft Bing, so we have accurate, comprehensive search results, which we’ve enhanced with our own knowledge panels, instant answers and widgets. We also feature a Google button at the top and bottom of all our search results, which enables you to jump to Google’s search results with just one tap or click, should you ever feel the need. With that in mind, there really is no reason not to use SearchScene! We have browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Edge browsers and also have iOS and Android apps for your phone or tablets, so using SearchScene is really easy – click here for more on that. We also have great privacy features.