It is pretty common knowledge that the Google search engine tracks and monetises your search history. In addition, they serve up search results that are "catered" for you, in addition to leveraging your search history to better serve you advertisements. In part, they can get away with it because they do have a pretty awesome search engine that does serve up results that are pretty relevant to what you are generally looking for.
I first hopped onto the internet in the days before Google, so I do remember what it was like to have subpar search results, and I also remember the absolute joy when I switched to Google in those very early days when they were a genuine start-up and not the global advertising giant that it has grown up to be. Privacy is a pretty important concept to me, and I have tried a number of different alternatives to the Google search engine. For quite some time, I flirted with the idea of using Duck Duck Go for my searches. However, every single attempt to move away from Google has not been successful for the sole reason that the alternative search engines have not been very good at returning the results that I've been looking for.
So, it was with muted expectations that I decided to give Presearch a spin. I was writing up an assignment for a Masters degree, so I was going to be doing quite a lot of searches in a short period of time. A perfect time to see Presearch would stack up against Google.
What is Presearch?
Presearch is an attempt to decentralise web search, with user privacy and transparency of search as its primary goals. Google has a notoriously opaque algorithm that serves up search results to users. These search results are the lifeblood of online companies and services, and Google has a degree of conflict of interest due to the fact that it also owns and runs many competing services. So, it can be difficult for users to know if they are genuinely being served the best content or if they are being steered back to the Google empire.
Presearch currently piggy backs off existing search engines via its nodes to serve up search results to its users. The users can choose which search indexes and data resources are used, and the node network helps to ensure privacy. Over time, the existing search providers will be overlaid with community generated search indexes and resources. For a more in-depth read on how it works, take a look at their webpage: https://www.presearch.io/ecosystem
The Presearch search box is beautifully minimalistic, especially in the dark theming. It allows for easy switching of selected websites, which is an incredibly handy feature that all search engines could learn from! Many times, I've just wanted to search Medium, Coingecko or Youtube and it is a small pain to add the extra terms to the search box. It is possible to customise this bar to display your preferred sites. Crazily handy!
In comparison, the Google search box feels decidedly lacking in options and customisation! One thing that I do like about the Google search box is the little colour and flavour that they put into the feature above the box. Sometimes, it does get me curious to see what sort of special day or event is happening! Plus, it can be a handy way to learn something about the adopted country that I live in, as these features are localised (tracking!) for each user!
I used Presearch quite intensively over the last few days, with some double checking with a Google search as well. I will highlight some of the things that I enjoyed and some things that I found less good about the search engine with some examples.
In general, the search experience with Presearch has been quite satisfying. There are a few little quirks that have more to do with the fact that they don't track you quite as heavily as Google. This does have a slightly negative impact on the searches, but not as bad as I have experienced with other non-tracking search engines such as Duck Duck Go.
For the general research searches that I was doing for my Masters, Presearch worked quite well. In fact, it was surfacing very similar results to Google! So, definitely no complaints there. I also liked how it managed to keep the dark theme preference from search box through to search results... something that Google failed spectacularly to do!
What I did notice however, was the bizarre advertisement! At this early stage of adoption, I guess anyone can buy advertisements on searches even if they seem to be for irrelevant search terms. In this case, I have no idea how a Binance advertisement (a referral even!) ended up showing on my searches about Educational observation techniques! I do wonder if that is being abused at the moment, but it is something that will get sorted with adoption, as legitimate keywords and search terms are staked by appropriate advertisers.
Well... I can't study all the time! Plus, I wanted to read a bit more about the new discount token sale being listed on Coinlist! If you want to read about that, you can find information about it on my blog here!
Anyway, the advertisement in this case was spot on. However, I knew what I really wanted and I pretty much never click on ads for my search leads anyway. What was noticeable immediately was the fact that the top listed search term was the Dutch versions of the Coingecko website. I am searching from Netherlands, and so it would be a good assumption that I would prefer the Dutch language of the website. However, my preferred language is English, and without tracking it would be difficult for Presearch to know that. This could be a problem if you are travelling!
I decided to test out the language issue a bit further, as it could be the main problem that had surfaced, given that the searches tended to be on par with Google. A search for "Den Haag" (the Dutch name for The Hague) did return the expected Dutch results. So, nothing out of the ordinary there...
However, the same search on the Google search engine revealed that the search giant already knew that despite the Dutch language search term, that I would prefer the English version of the websites. So, like it or not, there is some convenience in having some breaches of privacy....
Another thing that this search revealed (other than Google's total lack of regard for my dark mode preference...) was the deep integration across Google products. In this case, the Maps integration, which would allow for easy directions and export into Calenders or email. Presearch might be a decent privacy search engine that competes toe-to-toe with Google's search engine... but Google is now much more than a search engine, and that might make it a bit of an unfair fight for most users.
Switching to the English language search of "The Hague" reveals that Presearch is still not really recognising that I would prefer the English language versions of the websites. Plus, there is that keyword squatter again with the Binance referral link on irrelevant search terms!
At least the English language versions are higher up on the search order than last time, so it isn't a chore to find them. However, it does mean that I will need to find a way to get Presearch to prioritise language over location. Especially before I start travelling to countries where I can't actually read the language!
One of the biggest conflicts lies in the fact that Google is a search engine, service provider AND advertiser in a single company. Much like the Brave browser (BAT) has attempted to create a new power structure between users, content and advertisers, Presearch uses it's PRE token to create a new dynamic between users, search indexers and advertisers. Like BAT, users are incentivised with tokens to use their product, but don't think that you are going to get rich from this! Use Presearch for the privacy and the vision of reforming search, the PRE tokens are a bonus.
Of course, privacy and vision are worthless if Presearch is significantly less reliable than Google. Mass adoption doesn't depend on the idealists, but on people who just want a good product that does what it is supposed to do. Luckily, in my short but intense usage, Presearch has proven itself to be almost as good as Google, which is high praise for a product that is still in development! In fact, I found it a much better experience than Duck Duck Go, which is a better known alternative.
So, Presearch is now finding its place alongside Google as a search engine of choice on mobile and PC. The only thing that is holding it back from being my sole search provider is the fact that there is so much Google integration across search, maps, calenders.... its hard to bring down a giant, but Presearch has laid one of the foundations for potentially cutting the giant down to size. So, Chrome browser will keep Google for the integration whilst the Brave browser will take on Presearch as the default option!