My favorite genre has always been science fiction (sci-fi), not just because I enjoy technology but more so as thought experiments on how technologies shape society. Growing up during the home computer revolution and the rise of the World Wide Web, my generation experienced one of the most incredible eras of human history: unchartered territory where the Internet facilitated an unprecedented exchange of information.
This exchange has spurred drastic restructuring of societies, impacting every aspect of our lives. Much good has come of this, such as the dissemination of knowledge. But, as any sci-fi fan knows, the incorporation of such life-changing technologies into our everyday lives creates areas of concern as well—hence, the existence of sci-fi’s dystopian subgenre.
The purpose of dystopian sci-fi is to examine hypothetical situations regarding the sociological impact of technology, as a warning about what could happen if said technologies are mismanaged. One of the most popular dystopian work’s is George Orwell’s novel, 1984, which hypothesizes a totalitarian society where the government controls information, wielding censorship and surveillance to control the masses.
Despite the advanced warning 1984 provided, many societies suffer from just this, with governments controlling the Internet, and, with that, the information their citizens can access. But, even in ostensibly free societies, this artificial manipulation is occurring—not by governments but, rather, by powerful technology companies that censor content and influence visibility.
And although several technology companies exert control over various sectors of the Internet, one stands out: Google. Perhaps no other organization in human history has had such unilateral control over the dissemination of this much information than Google, and it was this unsettling realization motivated me to seek out other options.
That, coupled with my interest in the decentralized nature of cryptocurrencies and blockchains, led me to the existence of an alternative: Presearch. To learn more about the technology behind it, I perused the project’s website and was intrigued enough to give it a shot. A few months later, it has become my go-to search engine for five reasons.
Decentralization is an organizational structure in which power is distributed among multiple entities. This concept is applicable to the macro-level (e.g. a market) and micro-level (e.g. an organization within a market). There are a variety of situations in which concentrated power can be beneficial, such as those that require fast decision making (think of emergency response services such as firefighting) or those with limited resources (think of a volunteer fire department in a small town). In those cases, having multiple competing departments arguing over how to fight a fire in progress instead of quickly fighting the fire could cause irreparable harm.
However, there are also situations in which centralization is disadvantageous, such as the control of information. Not only does Google have a monopoly on the search engine market, with over 92 percent global market share, but they also have unilateral control over that monopoly (contrast that with the Chromium web browser, which has a monopoly on Web browser usage, led by Google’s Chrome, but also is open source, and thus, has a plethora of forked alternatives).
In contrast, Presearch has adopted a decentralized and open-source approach to governance, which means that its users have a say in decision making. Thus, ditching Google for Presearch not only helps reverse the former’s market monopoly, but it also supports an organizational strategy that empowers the community rather than the organization. The World Wide Web is a stronger, fairer, and more robust information system when it comprises diverse entities rather than being dominated by a monopoly—especially one with a centralized structure of governance.
Google has leveraged their monopoly on the search engine market to create a complementary monopoly on monetization via advertisements, hoarding 95 percent of the entire search engine ad market, leeching off content creators by lifting information from websites so that only one-third of all Google searches result in a click-through to the original content.
Google has achieved such dominance by aggressively tracking its users and feeding them ads based on their online behavior. As an example of what this looks like, examine these search results from a browser running in a private window with shield software indicating that a ‘private’ Google search produced 11 trackers and ads alone. In contrast, searching in Presearch with those same criteria resulted in 0 trackers or ads.
Ideologically, the previous two issues would normally be enough to motivate me to switch services, but search engines have an important caveat: they have to be able to quickly and efficiently provide the desired results of a query, otherwise they are just a waste of the user’s time. There is no doubt that Google’s search engine excels at just that, so I was skeptical Presearch could match it.
But, after using Presearch for the past few months, not only was I surprised that, for nearly all my searches, Presearch is on par with Google’s results, more so there were several instances where Presearch was better. Take this search for an example: “r reparse network drive library”. For data analysis I use the R programming language but had recently encountered a mysterious reparse error using a network drive to load a library (i.e. an add-on package). For this search, Presearch’s third result provided exactly what I needed, ascertaining that the problem was related to a specific network drive (OneDrive) and a specific add-on package (odbc).
Conversely, Google failed to figure out what I needed. In fact, the third result is not even related to R programming at all. Not only did the desired result not show up in the Top 3 on Google, it was not even in the Top 100 (if it even shows up at all—I stopped scrolling through Google’s results after ten pages). This search result comparison used the same criteria: a browser in a private window, not logged in to either service.
Presearch still lags behind Google in other search areas (notably, mapping). But it is a nascent service that clearly has a lot of potential to grow and improve, and I was impressed that, not only could it match Google on almost every general information search, but it could find things that Google cannot.
This is especially true for cryptocurrency searches. Presearch, which has its own blockchain-based token, seems to understand that many of its users are also interested in cryptocurrencies, whereas Google does not. Take this simple search for the cryptocurrency Chainlink, which is often referred to by its trading symbol, LINK.
Google’s first result is for LinkedIn (note also the poor resizing in the screenshot below, with the videogame character, Link, cut off and requiring horizontal scrolling). It is not until after scrolling past a “People also ask” section (none of the suggestions having anything to do with Chainlink), an images section (none related to Chainlink), and other results till the seventh one near the bottom of the page finally mentions Chainlink, and, even then, only as a direct link to the project’s website.
In contrast, Presearch immediately highlights the coin, providing its full name, abbreviation, and logo as well as the current price, the daily and weekly percentage changes in value, along with helpful links to the project’s website, source code, and social media sites. It also presents data pulled in from CoinGecko on coin ranking, market cap, volume, circulating supply, and so on. In short, it is exactly what I wanted to see, front and center.
In addition to its impressive search results, despite being a comparatively young service, Presearch also excels in customization features, including a sharp-looking dark mode that can easily be toggled on or off by clicking the gear icon in the search bar and then clicking the moon icon, even when not signed in. (Bonus: there is also a globe icon that toggles off geolocation results).
Presearch’s most exciting customization options, though, come in the form of search providers, which are especially useful if you frequently search for specific types of things (like stock quotes) or specific websites (like Rotten Tomatoes). In that case, you can add a relevant provider to your Presearch profile (e.g. Yahoo Finance for stock quotes or Rotten Tomatoes for movie ratings) and easily click on their icons to search them directly. I have twelve such providers on my profile (but you can have more or less than that), for some of my common searches like Stack Overflow and Github for programming questions, Wikipedia and various dictionaries and thesauruses for reference searches, and so on.
There are well over 100 built-in providers to choose from, but if you cannot find one you are looking for, you can create a custom search provider. I did that for Urban Dictionary, which is community-driven dictionary for slang words, and Jisho, a Japanese-to-English dictionary. You simply type in the address used by the website for searches, enter the name, and then choose an icon. You can also drag and drop to re-arrange the icons or easily delete them.
Google’s search ad revenue brought in an unparalleled $46.2 billion in revenue in the most recent quarter alone. Google does not share this money with you. You are not their customer. You are their product. They control the ads you see, and they pocket the money.
Presearch has an entirely different mindset, sharing revenue with their users in the form of PRE tokens. Users can earn PRE tokens for searches (something every Internet user is already doing) or, for more advanced users, running nodes (i.e. literally contributing to the decentralization of the search engine).
How many PRE tokens can you earn for searches? Presearch uses a dynamic rewards system that adjusts the earnings—a necessary strategy to ensure the longevity of the ecosystem. Recently this has resulted in earnings around 0.10 to 0.13 PRE tokens per search, capped at about 3 to 4 PRE tokens per day, which, although it will not get you that Lamborghini, is more than Google gives you.
What can you do with PRE tokens? When you have accumulated enough PRE tokens (currently about 1000), you can withdraw them and trade them on various centralized and decentralized exchanges, or, most interestingly, you can stake them on keywords, a revolutionary new approach to search engine advertising that democratically gives users a say in which ads get served for which searches. Imagine you run a kayak rental shop in a tourist town. You could stake your accumulated PRE to the words “kayak”, “rental”, or the name of your small town. Then, anyone searching on Presearch for those words would see your ad. If a competitor wanted to outbid you, they could stake the same keywords using more PRE tokens than you.
Keyword staking is an interesting concept and feels refreshingly transparent. Instead of Google’s algorithms cycling through the data they have accumulated on you and unilaterally serving an ad they think will maximize their revenue, Presearch’s method feels community driven. Just the other day I searched a city I used to live in and was immediately drawn to an ad for a café I had never heard of (and likely never would have). I clicked the ad and was taken to the website of a mom-and-pop coffee shop, found myself enjoying their story, and now plan on visiting it. That is something I have never experienced in a Google search.
Decentralization. Privacy. Results. Customization. Rewards. If any of the those five reasons for ditching Google appeal to you, give Presearch a shot. You might be surprised by the experience, and you can even get 25 free PRE tokens just by signing up with a referral link. Here is mine: https://www.presearch.org/signup?rid=2219231 but if you do not want to use it, at least use somebody’s, otherwise you are leaving free tokens on the table.