A Google Alternative? YaCy May Offer a Challenge

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Google has long held near-undisputed hegemony in the lucrative arena of web search. Repeated challenges from Yahoo!, Bing, and others have met with limited success at best. So successful has Google been, in fact, that they have broadened the scope of their product far beyond search, creating or buying a variety of products ranging from email to phone services to smart phone and notebook operating systems. Google has grown immensely over the last few years.

That rapid growth, however, has some people worried. The company has been dogged by an array of controversies relating to its manipulation and censorship of search results, its access to users’ private data, and its willingness to provide search terms to government authorities. As recently as yesterday, one tech blog noted that Google’s censorship seems to be on the rise.

YaCy (pronounced “ya see”) hopes to change all that. The German-based company, which has the support of the Free Software Foundation of Europe, released version 1.0 of their peer-to-peer search client today. YaCy is not a search engine in the traditional sense. It has no true web portal like Google’s or Bing’s or Yahoo’s. Though there is a demo web portal available for testing, the developer is careful to stress that it is only a demonstration, and does not provide the full experience. Instead users download a free open-source client to their computers. These clients crawl the internet independently, as well as indexing sites visited by their users, and share the results with other peers on the network. The result is that YaCy has no centralized servers. This means that users’ search terms are not accessible to any government entity, and that search results cannot be censored.

According to the YaCy website, the network currently has 1.4 billion documents indexed and over 600 peers. Each new peer expands the network and improves the speed at which websites are indexed. In addition to avoiding centralized servers and the concerns about censorship and privacy that go with them, YaCy aims to provide better, more personally relevant results to its users.

A request for comment sent to Michael Christen, YaCy’s developer, has not yet received a response. A screen shot of a typical YaCy search results page can be seen below.

A typical search results page from the YaCy client

The general reaction on Twitter seems to be one of cautious optimism. Most laud the freedom from centralized "big brother" type access:

finally! A search engine out of "big bhrothers". It is called YaCy - http://t.co/yOkC3bEi #yacy 19 minutes ago via identica · powered by @socialditto

Others see YaCy as a major breakthrough in search technology.

Open source YaCy project will change the way we think about de-centralized search. I'm running 2 YaCy peers, the visualizations are v neat! 18 minutes ago via web · powered by @socialditto

While others are uncertain whether the concept of peer-to-peer search has traction, given that it requires users to put their own machines on the network.

Interesting idea but I don't think the proposition of 'Make your pc a search engine' is going to score with the 'norms' http://t.co/usgykM28 5 hours ago via TweetDeck · powered by @socialditto

And others worry about the user-friendliness of the software's design.

I feel like YaCy is a tool designed and developed by developers. It's simple to them but not to average users. http://t.co/HtqEiFfi 2 hours ago via web · powered by @socialditto

What do you think? Is YaCy a credible rival to Google? Will you be installing it? Sound off in the comments.

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