You have to hand it to Google, which celebrated its 25th birthday last month. The California-based company that reinvented the market for internet search, then dominated by the likes of Alta Vista and Yahoo!, still offers the world’s best search engine.
No one can beat Google’s search index and the relevance of its results, which is why Google still controls more than 90% of the search market and a large portion of global digital advertising revenue with it.
Google is perhaps too successful for its own good. The US Department of Justice is suing the company for allegedly abusing its monopoly over online search. In the crosshairs is Google’s practice of paying huge sums of money - US$10 billion a year to Apple alone - to be the default search engine on new devices.
Regulatory action against Google could create an opening for its various rivals, some of them well-established but unable thus far to make significant in-roads against the search giant. Disillusioned by Google’s propensity to promote its own services and tired of their search data being mined for insights to target adverts at them, a small but growing band of internet searchers is looking for alternatives. Here are five search engines with something to offer that Google doesn’t have.
For years the much-mocked distant follower to Google, Microsoft’s Bing has just 3% of the global search market. But its fortunes are turning around thanks to artificial intelligence.
Microsoft’s partnership with leading AI company OpenAI has allowed it to create Bing Chat, a conversational search feature that offers an alternative to simply entering key words or phrases and then browsing through the links served up.
Bing Chat will have a conversation with you, remembering the context of your questions in future searches. It’s great if you want context in addition to simple sources of information. The way Bing Chat includes references to trusted sources in its answers is very useful. You can also enter prompts into Bing Chat to create passages of text and images for you. Google has its own Bard AI chatbot available, and its AI search assistant is currently being trialled. But for the moment, Bing is a step ahead and I’m using it regularly - for the first time ever. Its general search function has also benefited from the use of AI behind the scenes and Bing’s interface has come a long way in the past two years.
But you are still essentially dealing with a Big Tech giant intent on using your data to generate targeted adverts. If that makes you uncomfortable, there is another option.
The Brave search engine comes from the makers of the Brave web browser and follows the same philosophy - it will keep your searches and web browsing private. You don’t log into Brave and while it will look for your IP address to find you so it can serve up results relevant to your geographical location, it doesn’t track your searches or ask you to log into a Brave account.
There are adverts on Brave but because it doesn’t collect identifiable user data, they are not targeted at you. Brave makes money through displaying adverts and runs the Brave Rewards scheme, where users are compensated for paying attention to the adverts.
Brave has its own search index which I don’t find to be as good as Google. But it has some nice approaches to displaying information. A summariser blurb will pop up to summarise the best answer to your search, and relevant answers from the Reddit social network, where conversations on a vast range of topics are happening at any one time, help you find useful views and context quickly. Brave is where you go if you want a pretty decent search tool while preserving your privacy.
The oddly named DuckDuckGo sees itself as the default rival to Google and has a great pedigree – it’s been committed to the cause since 2008. The cause, as with Brave, is protecting your privacy.
DuckDuckGo won’t track your search results, won’t store data on you or target adverts at you. It does a very good job of blocking websites’ efforts to collect tracking data. But DuckDuckGo doesn’t have its own search index - it uses Bing’s index. That means you can expect quality results similar to Microsoft’s Bing but without the tracking and ad-targeting Microsoft engages in.
DuckDuckGo runs adverts, but based on your keyword searches rather than your cumulative search history. As with Brave, DuckDuckGo has a privacy-focused web browser as well and the DuckDuckGo app you can download for your computer and smartphone puts it all handily in one place.
Blockchain may make you think of cryptocurrency scams but there’s much more to the technology. It allows decentralised organisation of information, meaning data isn’t collated and stored in one place.
That concept underpins Presearch, a decentralised search engine, where a community of users run nodes which index information all over the world. It means the community can control what information is indexed. The same concept underpins Timpi, another decentralised search engine in development with its co-founders based here in New Zealand.
Presearch bills itself as being privacy-friendly and rewards users with cryptocurrency for their searches. You are given PRE tokens as you search, which then allow advertisers access to target searches entering certain keywords. It’s a more equitable approach to search engines, where the users get a cut of the proceeds in return for being targeted with ads.
The PRE tokens can be converted into cash but we’re talking small amounts of money. Still, this has great potential to underpin the future of search. The decentralised nature of Presearch means the community can customise the sources search results are based on for more relevant results. The flipside is that Presearch doesn’t have as big an index as Google. It will grow as more nodes are added by the community. You can also quickly search Google, Bing and other search engines via Presearch, so it serves as a good search engine aggregator, too.
Yes, the old search leader from the early days of the web is still in the game. It too is based on the Bing search index and has been since as far back as 2010.
So what value does Yahoo! add to search results? Yahoo! has long had a strong focus on news and financial information. While news sources are returned high up most search engines, Yahoo! has increasingly tailored its search results around returning topical news results. I still head to Yahoo! to find out about financial markets information and to pull up sharemarket graphs. You can search within Yahoo! Finance for financial information, making it one of the better free sources of information about the markets.
That’s about as far as Yahoo! goes. It is full of ads and will track your data as aggressively as Google does. But it’s a decent secondary search engine for finance new junkies but otherwise, you may as well head straight to Bing where its results are drawn from anyway.