People, especially researchers, couldn’t be happier with the current state of the Internet. People can learn and research information for free, and that too at an unprecedented speed. But rarely does one wonder about the way these services are able to sustain and even grow! What we do not realize is that we’ve paved the way for just a handful of companies to control most of the world’s information. Among all these companies, there is a powerful “gatekeeper” which not only controls our information but also controls our access to relevant knowledge. However, due to its marketing strategy, the popular notion is that Google is a neutral platform with a “don’t be evil” mantra. For the most part of the last two decades, Google has been mostly neutral, and the page rank algorithm is the best search algorithm the world has ever seen. But the way Google monetizes its search services has led many to question its neutrality. The ad-revenue model can often be self-serving and can lead to irrelevant answers which a user doesn’t want. While it is true that, in practice, Google minimizes such irrelevance and provides neutral and relevant answers, the model has theoretical flaws. The extremely centralized search engine we all trust can get brittle and violate the idea of an open Internet. Thus, many have speculated whether the decentralization aspects of blockchain can be applied to the search engine space and some have even been successful in creating decentralized search engines. YaCy is one such example – it is a peer-to-peer search engine. This is a great tool, but it needs an economic model to be able to sustain itself and be a serious competitor to Google. Another one is Presearch, which does use crypto-inspired technology to deliver relevant information to its users.
Presearch is “a decentralized search engine, powered by the community.” This is what the Presearch official website claims. The platform aims to utilize a blockchain-based index that is curated by the community, in contrast to Google, which only uses centralized web crawlers/spiders to mine data across the Web. Also, with Google and other centralized search engines, the ranking factors used by the search algorithms aren’t publicly known. This leads to a system where businesses are constantly fighting for every bit of users’ attention and doing so in a disorderly manner. Businesses can always pay money for more attention, but that is a completely different game when compared to the search engine optimization (SEO) arena. As mentioned by the Presearch team, “often times massive algorithm updates that impact millions of sites are released unannounced and are even denied or obfuscated. This leaves webmasters constantly on high alert, waiting for the next shoe to drop. It is left to the search engine optimization community to try to make sense of things…” In the case of Presearch, these ranking factors are open and transparent, which allows content creators to access a fairer, and “level playing field” where they can publicize themselves. This also allows users to filter their query results by data sources. Since this search engine is community-driven, the collaborative decision-making process ensures that “everyone’s interests are aligned”, and the best content rises up the ranks and is showcased more intensely.
The Presearch engine is designed to fund its operations through a transparent advertising system which is significantly different from that of traditional search giants. This system also has the functionality to advertisers to bid on keywords and sponsor results. The version one displays ads as auto-suggestions in the search field itself. These ads are bought using Presearch tokens (called PREs), via auction. This is how the project sustains and keeps serving its users. It also aims to incentivize project contributions via rewards – “…teams of data scientists could contribute algorithms, subject matter experts could curate collections of content, UI designers could create novel interfaces, and those running nodes could crawl and index the web. All would be rewarded with tokens based on the value of their contributions.” For more information on how Presearch plans to implement a powerful and decentralized search platform, have a look at the Presearch whitepaper.
Again, Presearch isn’t production ready, and the possibilities of it replacing Google are next to zero. This is because, even though Google will continue being a centralized search engine, it is constantly improving its proprietary algorithms and working hard to remain neutral. But with proper execution, it can become a serious competitor to the search giant, and perhaps even replace less popular engines like Bing. Above all, it will be a decentralized tool so it will work in exactly the same way as the Internet was supposed to work originally.
Saurabh Chaturvedi is a freelance developer and technical writer with a keen interest in blockchain, Bitcoin, and other cryptocurrencies.
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