We have to remember to be patient with the Internet; it’s still young. Only less than thirty years ago, the World Wide Web was introduced on top of existing Internet infrastructure. Since then we’ve built an ad-hoc information network, necessarily having to call “the perfect” the enemy of “the good” as we found quick and dirty fixes to the problems of navigating this worldwide electronic information space. If we had it to do over again, we’d probably do a lot of things differently.
One problem is that most of the web is impossible to find without a third-party search engine. This naturally creates a gateway heading through the most dominant search service, which accidentally became Google. The trouble is that Google controls too much of our lives now: It mines our data and sells that data to marketers, it controls what we see on the web, and it becomes impossible to avoid through its many subsidiary interests.
We may just get that chance to do it over again yet. Consumers and authorities are starting to draw attention to the problems of letting one company control the world’s information. Ironically, there’s actually dozens of perfectly viable search engines out there that do just about as good a job, some ways even far better.
For one thing, even though Google will show you adult content, it tries to shy away from anything too explicit unless you get very specific. It’s caught between user demand and marketers who don’t want ads next to something unsavory. Hot.com does the exact opposite: It’s a search engine that returns adult-oriented content only, applying any query you type. Hot.com does not mine your data or save your search history either, making it ideal for a discrete exploration into mature content.
HotBot uses its own search index, formed from the web crawler Inktomi. This creates an entire alternative view to Google’s filtered results, which primarily target ad revenue interests. HotBot presents itself as a safer browsing experience, pruning away dodgy sites and using a completely different ranking algorithm to list them. It’s refreshing sometimes just to see what Google doesn’t want to show you.
With a silly name and a serious mission, DuckDuckGo has risen to the front row of Internet citizens calling out for their online civil rights. DuckDuckGo serves the same quality search results as Google, but without mining users’ data and without filtering results according to marketing interests. DuckDuckGo has drawn a rallying fanbase in a few years, with users pointing it out as a prime example of how user-friendly search can be.
These are just a few of the dozens of search engines contending to take Google’s place. While it’s doubtful that Google can completely fall from grace – nothing survives like a large technology company – the pressure of market and legal regulation could push it into being a more well-behaved corporation.
Meanwhile, we have to say something for web diversity making a comeback. The web was a lot more interesting back when every site didn’t have to answer to one arbiter of public attention.