ZEEF: Taking on Google by using… humans.

Recently a new Dutch start-up has been getting some media attention. They have given themselves the name Zeef (the Dutch word for a sieve), a name that will start to make sense if you continue on reading. Zeef has taken on a rather ambitious goal; challenging Google by changing the way people search for information online. Their trick essentially revolves around sieving the information on the web to only show the relevant bits to people searching for a specific keyword. The interesting thing about Zeef is that this sieving is done by humans.

On Zeef, the information you can search through is managed by so-called curators. As a curator, you can create a page about a topic you like, let’s say backpacking. All the content on this page about backpacking is managed exclusively by you, the curator of the page. Curators can then add links to other websites with relevant information on backpacking on this page, and categorize these links into blocks on the Zeef page. So you might find a block with all kind of links about things to take on your backpacking trip and another block will show you all kinds of websites you can use to find hostels. It is also possible to add images or just blocks of text to your Zeef page, but the main aspect is the collection of links to websites relevant to the topic. The idea behind this is that humans are far better capable of deciding whether a website is relevant to this topic than algorithms, such as Google’s, ever will be. Now you might think “How do I know if this random person who created the page on backpacking is actually knowledgeable on the topic?”, and this would be a fair question since anyone can become a curator and setup a page within minutes. Zeef has tackled this problem by allowing other curators to ‘challenge’ a already existing page on the topic by creating their own page on the same topic. So let’s say you come across the backpacking page on Zeef and think you can do better. You can then simply create a page on the topic on backpacking as well, and when someone then searches on backpacking he/she will be able to choose between the two versions. If you like a page you can vote for it, and this way a ranking of multiple posts on the same topic is created.

(A page I created on Zeef: https://the-grid.zeef.com/axel.persoon)


Zeef has a really interesting approach, as it basically argues that a recommendation system by humans is better than a recommendation system based on a algorithm. And there might be some truth in that statement. As mentioned in the paper by Tsekouras & Li, people appreciate the effort made by recommendation agents. I can imagine that this appreciation of effort is even larger if people know the recommendation agents are human. The strength of Zeef lies in its numbers, and perhaps over time we will see a extensive hub of information completely curated by humans instead of algorithms.

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