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Hoongle shut down after Google policy violation

Published: April 21, 2009, 12:54 am ET
Collegian Staff

Hoongle.org, the search engine started by three University of Richmond students who sought to end world hunger, was shut down by its creators on Friday.

Google found that the popular social justice endeavor violated the terms of its advertising policy, said David Whitehead, one of the founders of Hoongle.

According to Google, the fact that Hoongle generates a donation of a product constitutes an incentive for people to use the search engine, said Whitehead. Because such an incentive is not permitted by Google, it disabled advertising to Hoongle Thursday. Since advertising brought in the most revenue for the site, the creators decided Friday to shut down the Web site.

The two creators of the Web site, seniors Whitehead and Vladimir Hruda, and senior Salmaan Ayaz, who worked with the social networking aspects of Hoongle, were unaware of the policy, but understood that Google had the right to cancel its agreement with Hoongle. They posted a letter to the Web site thanking their supporters for aiding them in their mission.

On the heels of a New York Times story and increased publicity, Hoongle’s popularity had soared during the past month. Its Facebook group had reached more than 7,000 members and each search of the page generated more than 15 pages of results. The Hoongle staff also received queries from people seeking jobs with Hoongle, they said.

Before being shut down, the meteoric rise of Hoongle had made it difficult for the three students to manage the Web site. All three agreed that managing the Web site and keeping up with schoolwork had become a difficult task.

“It created a disconnect between what we’re expecting and all the work it created for us,” Whitehead said.

Hoongle operated by donating the monetary equivalent of 20 grains of rice for each search a person performed through the site. From its launch last fall until Google shut down the site last week, Hoongle raised enough money for 6,000 meals, according to a statement posted to the Web site.

The three expressed disappointment over the loss of Hoongle, but said they remained committed to the cause of ending world hunger.

“We’re really thankful for everyone’s support,” Whitehead said. “We’re incredibly proud of the movement that we built. Six thousand meals could feed an entire village.”

Whitehead said they had researched other search engines and found that Yahoo! and MSN did not have similar restrictions on incentivized searching. For the time being, though, Whitehead did not expect Hoongle to be reborn using a different search engine.

Hoongle’s creators have no qualms with other people seizing upon Hoongle’s mission to end world hunger.

They would encourage others to learn from what Hoongle accomplished, Whitehead said.

“If someone can find a better way to stop world hunger, than please do it,” he said.

Hoongle recently won second place in the UR Business Pitch Competition held Friday. Whitehead said the creators would donate the $500 prize they received to UN World Food Program. They will also donate the remaining $1,500 to the program once advertisers pay for the period ending April 30, 2009, they said. The three students earned no money through Hoongle, they said.

Despite Hoongle’s demise, the three are proud of their accomplishments and look forward to a day where tools like Hoongle are no longer necessary.

“We don’t refer to it as a failure,” Whitehead said. “Four thousand kids will be able to tell you it’s a success.”

Contact staff writer Jimmy Young at jimmy.young@richmond.edu

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