It’s almost about 6 months since the last time I used Google search as my main search engine. This idea of using an alternative search engine was bugging me for a long time. Almost seven years to be exact. I remember the first time I heard about some reasons to reconsider my main search engine was from this Ted video:
However, I couldn’t leave Google for a long period of time. As a software developer and even as a normal internet user, I rely heavily on my search engine to find quality content related to subjects I need to know about. This means that I not only need to find content related to the search query I put into the search box but given the size of the internet, I also need the returned results sorted to the best relative order.
As Eli Pariser claims in his Ted talk, bubbling the results may not be necessary to give me the most relative results (actually as I experienced in the last couple of months, it’s really not). But there are other factors like being up to date, content quality and such are very effective factors which Google search successfully benefits from. The page ranking algorithms on Google are sophisticated enough to scale to the size of the current internet universe.
But the evil Google we know these days, is not much reliable company when it comes to privacy and the size of its monopoly and power (considering all marketing trackers provided by Google which are the standards of the web, just try to imagine where it can’t follow you and collect data about your choices), pushes users to dig deeper to find a suitable alternative for it. Here are the options I’ve tried so far:
Well, DuckDuckGo is probably the first option every one interested in search engines alternative to Google search will end up to. DuckDuckGo is presenting itself as a privacy-focused search engine and provides some cool utilities to make it a worthy option as the user’s main search engine. If you haven’t tried it before, I suggest to give it a try for a while (at least a week) and don’t just trust my following words.
There are some really great features which will make it more bearable as the main search engine:
- The instant answers: These are great and especially helpful to programmers. Take a look at this page for some examples.
- Bangs: Well, some people may like these. It’s helpful if you want to use target site's search engine (like IMDB search) to get results of your query instead of the search engine itself. I personally use the search engine itself to query such terms or use a tool like Surfraw to achieve the same result.
I personally, never could completely switch to DDG. Here are some of the reasons which pushed me back to Google:
- The result set was too noisy: It happens all the time with all the search engines. There are some terms which happen to be noisy (like the term serverless which is a term for a computing technique and a framework at the same time) and makes searching for related results a bit harder than normal. With DDG it would usually take me more tries and refactor in search criteria to find the proper answer. It may have caused by my thinking model on the search terms I used to express what I really want. DDG has improved over time and it provides much much better results these days.
- It’s not as open source as it should be: Well there are some open source parts for DDG. But the main engine is not one of them. DDG claims that it’s not tracking its users, but there is no proof of that other than the company's words. Of course, they provide some utilities to hide you from most of the user recognition solutions (eg. the onion routed URL), but still, the user should trust their word for it.
- It’s a US-based company: Well this may sound like a cliche since I’m an Iran resident at the time of this writing, but my concerns here is not rooted in the Iranian government's propaganda. There are some real concerns that we should worry about which are listed here on the privacy tools website.
- It’s not accessible in Iran: Yes, no surprise here. Our government believes the Google should be the only search engine we should have access to and no matter how much we try, they won’t open direct access to other search engines. I personally tried multiple times emailing them about it (there is an email address to report mistakenly filtered websites), but as we used to, there was no response to it.
- Not very friendly with Persian content: Not much to say here. The results are usually the least related ones and hugely old.
Startpage was the first alternative I could get used to using it instantly. At least it proved that I’m not too addicted to the Google search’s interface 😂. The reason is here:
- It’s not a search engine: Well basically we should consider it a meta-search engine which means that it collects the results from other search engines. And that other search engine is Google! So instead of searching directly through Google, I’m using a third party to retrieve my results, so hopefully, Google won’t figure out who asked the question.
- So I have the quality results of Google without being tracked: Almost true except that I’m out of my Google bubble, so I see the most relative content without Google manipulating them to my interest which has proven to me to be useless almost always so far.
- The anonymous view: This one is even better. I can open search results in a proxy view and hoping that Google marketing tools active on target site won’t get the chance of following me. Of course, there is still the fingerprinting option available, but there are some solutions to overcome those as well.
- It’s based on the Netherlands: So we can hope for less creepy surveillance decisions.
- It’s Persian friendly: Which of course is not a surprise since Google supports Persian pages greatly.
- The family filter is on by default: So you don’t end up with NSFW pictures on the screen for an unrelated query 😂.
But these are not enough:
- It’s not open source either
- It’s not accessible in Iran as well: Hooray 🎉. So how I use it? Well the first thing we should learn as soon as we start to develop our career related to ICT in Iran, is how to set up a VPN and use it. To be honest, I started learning Linux and programming mostly because I was trying to find out a way to not be blocked by internet filtering mechanism in Iran 😉.
This one probably will be my ultimate option. An opensource, self-hosted/distributed meta-search engine which other than Google supports a lot of other engines available out there. Take a look at the Engines tab in this page and see it for yourself. Why do I like it? Here are the main reasons:
- It’s open source.
- It’s possible to self-host it or use one of the free instances available out there.
- I don’t need to trust third-party companies with my data.
- It’s easy to set up or find an instance that is not blocked in Iran.
- It's a meta-search engine: I believe it's the more correct way of solving the Google issue. Creating a full blown search engine from scratch requires a lot of resources which Google has spend over time.
So why I don’t use it (yet)? Mostly because of this issue. Google is the worst evil we have. With all those resources in hand, it blocks requests (to preven DDOS attacks) from IP ranges (happens a lot with VPSs from DigitalOcean) which requires users to solve their stupid captcha (usually multiple times in a row).
This is my experience so far. I’ll be glad to hear yours. Ping me on Twitter by @shahinism and share and share your ideas.