Alternative Search Engines

Its not everyday there is a breeze of fresh air in the world of search engines. In fact this one-trick pony show has gotten damn boring. Google updates remind me of IRS publications – little more than switching things around to keep everyone guess rather than any real innovation. Microsoft Adcenter? Seems like a retirement home its that quiet. Most clients don’t even ask me about Adcenter anymore.

There is a new kid on the block. Yes there are plenty of alternate search engines out there (like Bing). So if you are not a search engine engineer, it may help to quickly break-down the alternative search engines landscape, because there are so many and they come and go so quickly. Search Engines (SEs)

Categories can overlap. For instance, the two biggest categories are Type 1) those SEs that source their results from Google, and Type 2) privacy-centric SEs. You could almost combined those two categories into one because there are so many that do both; use Google’s index AND mask your identity. You already know and probably use those. re. DuckDuckGo. I’m not interesting in these since the results are still subject to Google’s censorship manipulation.

There are only 2 of interest

For SEs that don’t use Google and are privacy-centric, there is Yacy and Presearch. I hold out hope that one day Yacy becomes user friendly and more widely deployed. A P2P search engine is certainly a resilient censor-proof privacy solution and great if you have the skill to employ it for yourself (try it if you have the wherewithall. I use it). But it has inherent technical search weaknesses that I won’t detail here.

Today I’m diving into the most interesting SE concept I’ve seen since Yacy, and that is Presearch – or decentralize node search incorporating blockchain.

What makes Presearch so interesting to me is not blockchain per se. Nor is it the decentralized node architecture. Its the monopoly-busting business model. OK, the business model utilizes blockchain. But you have to realize the monopoly that Google has on the Pay-Per-Click business model (ad platform) is scary, but I’m hoping Presearch is the first horse with a chance of out-running Google. Its a long-shot as you will see.

There is a big unknown here – a patent.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…there was a search engine called Goto, and there was a guy named Bill Gross, who got the idea to power Goto search by way of advertising. A profitable business model was finally born for the SEs. To be fair, there was plenty of pay-for-placement going to at that time. But it was done in ways that more or less ruined search results. So Bill wasn’t really the first guy with the idea, its just that he/Goto did it in such a way that it worked for the user.

Prior to Bill Gross & Goto, around 1998, search engines were money pits, expensive to run and not many ways to get people to pay for them. So they were powered by deep pockets like Digital Corp’s AltaVista or barely survived using any trick in the book to pay the bills, with the hope that some big DOT-COM company, like AOL at the time, might just want to buy an SE as a necessary service to keep their users inside the garden. eMail was such a service. You had to offer it to keep the natives stay in the garden.

Why am I going on about the history of Goto? Because its relevant to any contender in the key infrastructure of the Internet – the search engine. And if you intend to depose The King…you better know what you are doing.

Yahoo ended up with the patent that Goto, and then Overture, had. And then 10 days before Google’s IPO, in March 2012, things went into a black hole…the patent fight. Its difficult to find details online about the cause of the blow-up between Google, Microsoft and Yahoo but “it” happened and they quickly all settled in secrecy. I’ll endeavor to due my diligence to support the assertion I’m making here based only on memory. But what I vividly remember that made me say “what?” was the NDA settlement. Why settle and bind every party to a non-disclosure if there is nothing to hide? The dollar amounts were made public as Forbes published, but not a detail about the patent itself. Living in Silicon Valley with friends working at Digital Corp (AltaVista) with knowledge of the business, I recall that it was not Bill Gross’s name on the patent, and there was talk that the patent was contested (guys talking about patents over beers being what it is) as Ill explain in a moment. So I will have to work to find that patent.

Secrets and what seems to be misdirection smell funny, no?

With that settlement, several search engines simply vanished. I can’t recall details but that was the end of many search engines of that period. So it is suspicious that since that patent “fight” and settlement, Google seems to have cemented the virtual monopoly they now enjoy on paid search (and Yahoo and Microsoft seem to agree to maintain).

But there was more funny-business besides the “secret patent settlement” between Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. As someone who has developed a patent knows, one cannot patent something that has already been in use, and/or made public. Goto filed for a patent (timing I don’t know) and supposedly was awarded a patent for the paid-search method they employed. It was apparently this patent that was at the center of this “fight”. But from what I know about patent law, it should be easy to challenge the legitimacy of a patent that seemingly was awarded after the “method” was in use in the public domain. And as everyone who knows patent law knows, its not enough to simply have a patent ( which the USPTO hand out like candy) on a good patent, you may be challenged to legally defend it. And you know how that works in the good’ol USA, its all about the Benjamins. No on has thus far decided (dared to risk the dough) to challenge this alleged patent. Anyway, more on this patent when I find more detail. (NOTE: I would appreciate any feedback on details that I am mistaken about here and will promptly update this post according to verifiable facts.)

Now I will get back to Presearch. Presearch seems to sail over all contemporary issues inherent in the DNA of centralize search engines. Centralized search engines simply cannot “Do No Evil” for the nature of the beast is to collect information on users, to serve more relevant results, but also to satisfy the unquenchable thirst state intelligence agencies have for individual’s profile data. (again its in their DNA) Spies spy. These two are made for each other.

Nodes are to Presearch what P2P is to Yacy. Distributed Nodes can resolves the privacy conundrum of centralized search engines. But Presearch offers no explanation how User privacy is protected. Currently there is a lot of buzz around the concept that individual’s should own their data and have the right to monetize it at their own discretion. Presearch would do itself a huge favor by 1) directly addressing the privacy attributes (lack thereof is disconcerting https://www.presearch.io/mission ) and 2) making possible individual data retention as an asset the user owns. Lets see.

The blockchain tokens described here are for all purposes, the same a dollars. Advertisers buy tokens with dollars that are then used to “stake” keywords. Stake means “rent” by their definition. https://keywords.presearch.org/#

Their business model, as yet, is not paid-placement-search. Its more like deposit-search. The actual business model is TBA (to be announced). But thus far it goes like this; Registered Users are rewarded tokens for searches. Distributed Node Operators are rewarded tokens as well. The tokens are “purchased” by advertisers who “stake” keywords with which their ad will run. A Stake sounds like a “deposit”. But those “deposits” must turn into revenue in order for this to be a viable business model – or its a TBA miracle/invention.

Today the website reads; “During the initial launch phase of the platform, estimated to last until sometime in early 2021, there will be no cost for any traffic you receive through your ad. We will make an announcement well ahead of time to provide everyone with notice before we change this policy.

That coming policy change is pretty obvious unless they have a printing press, or an aunt named Yellen exciting. I cant wait to see how this thing is going to pay the Node Operators, let alone the User.

So circling back to Google’s monopoly-enabling ad platform patent. Its all good and well if a “staked” keyword is a deposit, but when Presearch turns that into revenue, that Google patent becomes a very large anaconda in the watering hole.

I’m enjoying the fresh breeze meantime. I love a good startup. The community seems vibrant. Lets see. Use Presearch. And let me know.

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