It will probably come as no surprise that Google is by far the leader in the search engine market. The tech behemoth holds a share of around 90% of the global market, is one of the world’s most valuable brands, operates in 219 countries, and has the world’s most visited web address: Google.com. The company achieved this dominance by developing the strongest algorithms and focusing on user experience before selling out to advertisers.
To many, it seems unfair, or even undemocratic, that one company should monopolize the flow of worldwide information in this way. Greater competition would allow less control to be handed over to a single company and encourage more freedom of information. This makes us wonder if there are any alternatives to the search engine that has earned shareholders billions since its launch in 1998.
The limitations of any Google challenger can be in the power of the engine and the data available; this causes users to return to the market leader that they know to be fast and reliable. However, alternative search engines can deliver in different ways. Such as innovative functionality, increased privacy or the benefits of social businesses that provide value to the user.
Predating Google by four years, the Yahoo web platform found success as an early web pioneer in the nineties. This declined in the following decade, but the company remains one of the world’s leading search engines. Yahoo used to power its own searches, but since it partnered with Microsoft in 2009 it has been using the Bing search engine.
Yahoo is the default search engine for Firefox. This is a web portal that offers news, weather, shopping, games, and email, among other web services. It has excellent financial news aggregator, and it integrates well with third parties such as Flickr.
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This is a popular alternative to Google that offers its users absolute anonymity. DuckDuckGo CEO, Gabriel Weinberg, claims that if approached by the FBI, the company would have no information to give on its users. Searches made on DuckDuckGo are completely private and there is no user tracking. Also, data is not collected from browsing history, emails or social media profiles to personalize search results.
The search engine also features ‘bangs’, which are shortcuts that allow users to search other websites, such as Amazon or Wikipedia, anonymously with an exclamation mark prefix. In addition to this, a new DuckDuckGo extension enables hidden trackers on websites to be blocked, and encrypted websites to be viewed.
Bing is the second largest search engine in much of the world, with between five and ten percent share of the market in most countries. The search engine comes from Microsoft and has been an unsuccessful challenger to Google so far. Until 2009 it was known as MSN search.
There is a rewards scheme for online shopping through Bing. Suggestions to support user searches are given on the left-hand side.
“Bing is especially good for video searches and gives large thumbnails as results that can be easily previewed. It also gives preference to established websites over blogs and has a range of interesting features on its home page.” – as Roy Castleman, the Managing Director of Prosyn, mentioned in his recent interview in the time of discussing the leading search engine providers.
As the dominant search engine in the world’s most populous nation, on a global comparison, Baidu comes in second to Google. It is also the largest Chinese and the Japanese language enabled search engine. Baidu indexes almost a million web pages, 80 million images, and 10 million multimedia files.
Baidu looks similar to Google in terms of design. Advertising is the main funding source for them. Rich snippets are used in search results, which is also similar to Google. However, Baidu is subject to heavy censoring from the Chinese government. This limits its success as a search engine beyond China.
Another early pioneer, Ask began as Ask Jeeves in 1996. It is not a powerful search engine but is popular for the simplicity of its question-and-answer format. This is simple and easy to understand, especially for those who are not very familiar with search engines. Ask is also well adapted to searches in colloquial, natural language. The search results are clear, with frequently-asked questions related to the search. The overall design is simple, with no distracting advertisements on the home page.
Yandex is the largest search engine in Russia, with over half of the market share, and is owned by the biggest tech firm in Russia. It is also used in Kazakhstan, Belarus, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Turkey. It has a simple, white design that is similar to Google in appearance.
There is a range of services on the home page, including images, maps, and mail, and users can filter results by images or video. It is also popular for its easy-to-use translation features. Yandex includes useful developer tools and a cloud suite, Yandex Disk, that allows users to search for files directly from the search bar.
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A search engine with a difference, Ecosia is a Berlin-based and was founded in 2009. It is a social business that donates over 80 percent of its profits to organizations involved in reforestation. In order to address the carbon dioxide produced by most search engines, Ecosia plants a tree for an average of every 45 searches made.
The design of Ecosia is very similar to Google, with blue links and green URLs against a white background. Bing is powering the search engine, though Ecosia displays more advertisements on SERPs.
Search Encrypt is another alternative to Google that specializes in privacy by using local encryption. It uses various encryption methods, including Secure Sockets Layer encryption and AES-256 encryption. This ensures that searches are private and identifiable information of users cannot be tracked.
Search Encrypt is a metasearch engine with a network of partners that deliver search results, and it automatically deletes local browser history after 15 minutes. This means that your history will stay private even if someone has access to your computer.
Although it is less well known now, Dogpile preceded Google in the nineties, when it was a fast and efficient search engine that was powering Yahoo, Lycos and AltaVista searches, among others. Over the years that Google grew into the search engine giant, it is today, Dogpile fell into obscurity. More recently, however, it has bounced back and is rising again.
Dogpile has an attractive design that makes a change from the white display of many search engines, it has fast results that draw on multiple databases for well-rounded results, and it has a useful ‘favorite fetches’ feature on the home screen.
Qwant is France’s offering to the search engine world. It is the only search engine in Europe with its own indexing engine, though it was formerly powered by Bing. Qwant claims to not employ user tracking or personalize search results for the purposes of advertising.
Search results are categorized into the web, news and social. It also has a dedicated music section for searching for music and lyrics with the help of AI. Qwant is user-friendly and in some respects similar to DuckDuckGo. One of these ways is the Quick Search Shortcuts feature, which offers the same functionality as DuckDuckGo’s Bangs.
A search engine based on computational knowledge, Wolfram Alpha gives expert-level answers to queries, drawing from externally sourced data, rather than providing a list of web pages. To achieve this service of expert knowledge, Wolfram Alpha works on the principles of computation, calculation, statistics, and visualization. It is based on the former project, Wolfram Mathematica, and gathers data from academic and commercial websites, such as the United States Geological Survey and the Dow Jones.
Wolfram Alpha divides searches into categories and subcategories, as well as a selection of features to choose from that make the engine more suitable for academic contexts. Searches are also untracked, allowing more privacy to users.
Yippy began life in 2004 as Clusty but was renamed Yippy in 2010. From 2019, IBM Watson, the question-answer supercomputer, powered the searches. Yippy automatically categorizes searches into categories and allows users to filter searches by source, time or topics for the most relevant results. Users can also search by content type, including websites, news, images, blogs, jobs, and government data. In addition to this, they offer untracked searches and non-personalized advertising.
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Beyond the Silicon Valley giant, there is a selection of search engine choices that can offer a different perspective on the everyday flow of data we have come to see as synonymous with Google. Our searches can be more private, more academic, more categorized or more environmentally friendly. We can also reach out to different markets, such as those of China or Russia. Hopefully, in the future, we will see a search engine market that is more competitive and less centralized. But for this to happen, we need to be more open to the alternatives.