• Presearch, an anonymous, decentralized search engine, has come out of its testing phase.
  • Instead of supercomputers, Presearch is powered by thousands of user-controlled nodes.
  • It claims this design helps it avoid the privacy-intruding nature of mainstream search engines like Google.

Presearch search engine homepage

Most online services, including search engines, put too much control in the hands of one single company, which is one of the ills Web3 alternatives are trying to address.

Presearch, which has just exited the testing phase, is one such option that wants to end the monopoly of traditional search engines by putting people in charge. Its decentralized network replaces company-controlled supercomputers with a network of thousands of user-controlled nodes that work together. The goal? To get you the same meaningful results for your search queries but without the privacy and monopolistic concerns associated with traditional search engines like Google.

“Through decentralized search, we’re establishing a method for anyone online to benefit from and contribute to the search engine they use,” Colin Pape, Presearch’s founder, told Lifewire in an email discussion. “Decentralization allows the user to not only meaningfully benefit from the web, but also have a sense of ownership over their experience.”

Change of Guard

Presearch came online in 2020, and although fully functional, has been in a testing phase ever since. In fact, after the European Commission imposed a fine of €4.3 billion on Google for misusing Android to increase its search engine market share, the company added the ability for people in Europe to replace the default search option with one of several others, including Presearch.

After years of testing, Presearch’s decentralized search network is now live, meaning all search traffic of the service runs over the 65,000 volunteer-run nodes around the world. According to Presearch’s press release, the search engine has 3.8 million registered users and handles 150 million monthly searches, though its network is capable of processing a lot more.

In addition to routing search traffic, Presearch also anonymizes the searches as they’re handed off to individual nodes. It touts its improved anti-abuse system and enhanced search results experience, as some of its benefits over existing centralized search engines like Google and Bing.

"For years, centralized technologies have allowed big-tech and legacy institutions to profit from our search data and build multi-billion-dollar walled gardens," asserted Pape. "Decentralized technology is a product of the push for web3 to drive innovation around ownership, freedom, and privacy."

What’s Web3 Without Crypto

Part of the incentive for running a node is earning PRE tokens, which is the Presearch cryptocurrency based on the Ethereum blockchain. Node operators are rewarded with small amounts of PRE tokens for every query they process.

These tokens are also central to how ads are displayed on Presearch. The network has introduced the concept of keyword staking that enables PRE token holders to commit or lock them against specific words. These are matched against user search queries.

Through decentralized search, we’re establishing a method for anyone online to benefit from and contribute to the search engine they use.

Michael Christen, creator of the open source distributed search engine YaCy, remains unimpressed. Unlike Presearch’s approach, YaCy’s decentralized network relies on the principles of peer-to-peer (P2P) networks. Each YaCy peer crawls the internet independently to build the index of web pages that’s then shared with other YaCy peers.

"You identify decentralization by the fact that there is not a central place where you search or where the index is generated," Christen told Lifewire over email. "That is not the case here [with Presearch]."

Acknowledging the differences between the two, Pape said Presearch has taken a similar approach to YaCy by building a search engine powered by a community. However, he opined that despite being an early pioneer in decentralized search, YaCy just never took off because it's too complicated and offers a relatively poor quality of results.

"We've simplified decentralized search by accessing existing data sources while we build our own independent index, allowing a better user experience and fewer complications," explained Pape. "Nonetheless, competition in the search industry is important and good for the ecosystem, and we welcome YaCy and others to join us in attempting to make a dent in Google's monopoly on search."

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