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Getting by without Google

Getting by without Google
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First Published: Tue, Jun 26 2012. 08 03 PM IST

No cookies: These search engines don’t track user history
No cookies: These search engines don’t track user history
Updated: Tue, Jun 26 2012. 08 03 PM IST
Google started life as a simple search engine, but it’s grown to be one of the pillars of the Internet. Gmail is the biggest mail provider, and Google also has blogs, books and video (YouTube), along with many other services. Through AdWords Google also has a presence on most websites, and it collects your browsing history to serve “better” advertisements.
Google’s privacy policy promises to protect users and allows us to opt out of “interest-based advertising”. It also assures us that all user data is completely anonymized. However, many people are still not comfortable with having all their data on one search engine.
As it stands, there are some excellent alternatives to Google that do a better job of giving users what they’re looking for. Some are newer and more secure, while others are streamlined to provide results even faster than Google. Our five favourites are:
No cookies: These search engines don’t track user history
DuckDuckGo is a little like the first-generation Google. There are no blogs or books, or dedicated video services. There are no image-search options and no one is coming up with a new doodle for every day of the year.
It was founded to resolve the privacy issues around other search engines. It doesn’t collect any data from users, so everyone sees the same results from a search as opposed to results tailored around your “interests”.
One interesting feature is the “zero-click info” bar top of the page, which displays results based on what you’ve typed—but it doesn’t try and complete the search or predict what you’re searching for. Zero click only kicks in after you’ve completed typing in a full phrase.
But that’s not all. Is there a search function you would like to see, but which DuckDuckGo doesn’t have? That’s where DuckDuckHack comes in. It’s an extremely ambitious project to create “instant answer plugins”.
It essentially allows users to create specialized apps for DuckDuckGo to search for, for example, song lyrics or comic strips, and once approved, the app exists on DuckDuckGo so any user can access it. While DuckDuckGo started in 2008, it only became hugely popular last year, and added DuckDuckHack in April.
MillionShort is a customized overlay that uses Google’s search to get your results. The site helps you get to search results that most people never see, and since it is MillionShort that is doing the searching, the results are unfiltered, with no user history determining the order of results.
Launched earlier this year, MillionShort allows you to customize how many of the search results to skip—which is a good way of reaching websites that haven’t been given a dose of search engine optimization (SEO). When searching for anything, the default option is to skip the first million results, which often leads to smaller sites, which usually have a lot of good content that doesn’t get seen much.
And, of course, the entire experience is ad-free, with no personalized filters for the results, which means that it’s actually searching for sites, not just recommending things that it thinks you already like.
Gibiru and MillionShort have quite a bit in common. Both utilize the traditional Google search algorithm, rather than brand new search technologies. However, at heart they both offer a whole new way of searching the Web. MillionShort’s aim is exploring the unknown by skipping the top-ranked results; Gibiru is about anti-government policing, anti-personalization and user anonymity.
Despite using Google as a search tool, Gibiru alters Google’s working to prevent it from tracking your activities via the cookies Google installs whenever running searches. Thus, your search history remains private.
But Gibiru wants to do more than just prevent spying—it also wants to remove location-specific filters on content searches. Geo-location filtering often blocks different news sources based on the user’s region. So for an American user, for example, the government there could theoretically block news from Iran.
Gibiru reinstates the alternative news front, allowing for “uncensored, anonymous search”. Launched in 2010, Gibiru is worth a try if you want a traditional search engine without any filters or controls.
Sometimes framing a search can be complicated. And if you’ve tried to frame it as a simple question, then you usually get links to Yahoo! Answers, wikiHow and random, obscure forums that still don’t answer the question.
Then there are queries where you need to analyse dozens of links and compile the information to get a relevant answer.
Wolfram|Alpha, the brain behind Siri’s sassy chit-chat, is the solution. Based on a computational platform designed by Stephen Wolfram in 1988, Wolfram|Alpha was in development for over 20 years while its creators worked to make a computer program that could do more than search through information—it could analyse it and provide information through research.
Maybe you’d like some information comparing the different international airlines? Send the queries through to Wolfram|Alpha and it will put together a table complete with enough comparative information and stats to whet anyone’s appetite. The list of sources used to cull this data is provided at the end of the document, in case you’d like to do some extra digging. Even better, you can download it as a PDF for later viewing.
It was first made to solve math problems, but has evolved over time for consumer use, adding details from restaurants and stores, though the data is still very limited, and most useful in the US for now.
Google’s ubiquity has another problem which is not focused on as often as the privacy concerns their advertising programmes raise. The fact is that as the biggest search engine, Google is a target for anyone who wants to make a quick buck on the Web.
Content farms (sites that put lots of superficial text to attract search engines, instead of users) and other sites that are fairly useless can still rank well through comprehensive SEO tactics—and if a site ranks well on Google, then it will get a lot more visitors and make a lot more money through advertisers.
Started as a security project in 2010, but still under extensive development, blekko is an “anti-spam engine” which pools results from trusted websites and uses human intervention to verify the quality of links being offered as search results to improve the usefulness of the search engine.
It uses a network of three billion trusted websites to verify links and rank results, while over 8,000 beta testers pre-screen search results performing Wikipedia-style volunteer editing to provide quality information. And aside from the beta testers, users can also rank the results they get to help improve the search usefulness.
This especially applies to travel, finance, products and other topics that normally attract little more than paid advertisements and hit-hungry sites. Matters like personal health undergo more stringent measures, narrowing down to the most definite and trustworthy 76 sites. No more skimming through hundreds of useless links (that nonetheless rank high) on search engines to determine just what exactly that tingling in your left arm is.
What is perhaps most interesting about blekko is its “slash-tag” modifier system. For example, type “galaxy” into most search engines and you’ll be presented with results ranging from star systems to mobile phones and tablets. Enter the same into blekko, and it’ll automatically generate a list of terms preceded by a “/” so you can narrow down your search. There are currently 3,000 slash-tag terms for the site’s most popular searches.
Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com.
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First Published: Tue, Jun 26 2012. 08 03 PM IST