I’ve been using Neeva as my search engine very happily for a couple of years now. It was probably one of the best changes I’ve made to my computing habits other than quitting Twitter. The results were good (early-on, only “good enough”) included no ads, and it solicited feedback on the results so that over time the results got better. Much better. Plus it integrated into my own files, so I could do text searches for both the web and anything that I had written privately, all without trying to sell my data to anyone. Alas, on June 2, 2023 they are shutting down their search engine, just five days shy of exactly two years since I started using it. I need to find something else.
I am not a hard core privacy or security person. I’m not going to talk about how many and what trackers or whatever. I do some rudimentary blocking of the obvious stuff and then let it go. More important for me is just seeing fewer ads. This is a fairly superficial list with some basic research and first impressions. For each candidate I tried the following searches which are relevant to me but with some spelling errors to help with the testing. I did create accounts where available. YMMV.
rhubarb crip recipe
minneapolis avg temp for june
pwsh dynamic parameter
I’m otherwise pretty deep in the Microsoft ecosystem (Though Windows 11 is on my last nerve ATM). The natural path would be to go to Bing. Unfortunately their results are not as good as Google’s. It isn’t clear that their privacy and data policies are any better, and might be worse. Their suggested content is the absolute worst of the entire internet and I want to wash my eyeballs every time I get even a glance of it.
If Google is a “No”, Bing is pretty close to a “Hell No”.
I know several people who use the Brave browser and are quite happy with it, and I’ve even recommended it to others, but I’ve never looked into their search engine. Apparently there is something called “Brave Search Premium” that might remove ads, but there is no immediate public information about the specific features or the pricing without first doing a search, and then a link appears in the footer of the page. At $3/mo it is certainly priced well. I tried to sign up for the service, but my cards were all declined for no apparent reason. The search results were a really mixed bag. The cooking and markdown results had a big block of video results which some might like (I don’t). The cooking search returned a higher number of “strawberry rhubarb” recipes than other sites, and resisted efforts to remove strawberry from the results. The markdown search had a margin box with a decent Stack Overflow answer. The weather search had a “summarizer” box at the top of the page that told me about Minnesota’s yearly average temperature, the average temperature in November, and the average difference between Minneapolis and Duluth. Nothing about the average temperature in June that I asked for. The PowerShell search was definitely the worst. The first correct answer was in the fifth spot with only one other relevant result in the entire first page. The second page had zero valid entries.
I am not impressed.
The results in DuckDuckGo are better than I remember them being, but the results for the two technical searches were less thorough than the other two. It seems like they have optimized much better for general purpose searches, which is nice to see, but probably not adequate for my purposes. Worth noting is that it felt really slow to load the site and return results for the searches. Maybe loading the add-on would make a big difference? Interesting to see that they are using Apple Maps. Too bad it was painfully slow to use and even after granting location was… unuseful for simple queries like “restaurants” in the search area. (The country of Spain is not adjacent to my current location. Not even on the same continent.) In any case, it wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t great.
The big feature here is sustainability and transparency. Yes, you will see ads, but they say they don’t track your searches and use the profits to plant trees. Additionally, they claim to be generating enough of their own solar power that they are carbon negative. I also like that their cookie banner has a “Reject non-essential” as the first option next to “Accept all”. Recipe searches have ads as the first link on all pages, but it’s marked as such and wasn’t super intrusive. The Markdown search was interesting because it had a shopping box result at the top of the first page for physical tables, but all the search results were for Markdown. Not entirely sure what to make of that. The weather search did include both a forecast box and a Wikipedia box for the city of Minneapolis, but the search results themselves were pretty mixed for relevance. The PowerShell search was fine but unremarkable.
Unlike most of the rest of the sites Kagi does require an account to even try it. There is then an optional setup step that I actually appreciated and surfaced a few settings that otherwise I might not have noticed later. The one odd part was that it didn’t recognize that I’m running on Windows so the plea to download their Mac and iOS-only browser was pointless. It wouldn’t take much to filter for platform on something like that so that step comes across as kind of lazy after an otherwise well-thought-out onboarding experience. The cooking results were interesting in that it organized multiple results for the same site next to each other. I’m not sure how it decided to feature one of the results over the others, but it was nicely done. Strawberry Rhubarb recipes did not show up until well down the page. The markdown search had good results, several that I had not seen previously that were not even content farms. The weather search had a fairly generic result as the first result, and also marked it as one that used many more trackers than other results, but the next several results were quite good. The PowerShell search started really well but got a little far afield fairly quickly. One of the keys with Kagi is that in each of those searches where I saw a result that I didn’t find relevant it was easy to mark them as such and the results changed immediately. Between a required sign-up, a limit of 100 searches for a trial account, and somewhat steep pricing I can see why several people mentioned they did not have a lot of hope for the future but might be where I land for now.
UPDATE During my first look through Kagi’s pricing I did not notice that they have family plans available that might make it more useful for more people in either 2 user ($14/mo) or 6 user ($20/mo) variations.
I had looked into Qwant earlier this year when I was looking for a Google Maps alternative and had decided against it for those purposes. Search results have a LOT more ads than some other options in this list, and while they are marked the notation is in a more out-of-the way location and is easier to miss which is unfortunate. Well, except for the weather search which had absolutely zero ads and decent results. The other three searches had big shopping boxes at the top of the results with… some interesting results. (A rack mounted digital mixer for my PowerShell development needs? WTF) Given all of that it’s pretty clear that they really want you to use their shopping search which I have no interest in and the pushes toward using it would quickly grow irritating.
At least their interface is pretty consistent, if full of too many ads. At least the PowerShell search had a mostly relevant ad, if only it wasn’t from a site that I despise because they scrape Stack Overflow and sell the results as their own collected content. Still, could be a lot worse, and it was pretty quick. StartPage also has a paid mail service that I’ve heard decent things about. I find it somewhat strange that people paying for that service don’t get an ad-free version of their search.