Follow-Up: Gerloff Chimes in on YaCy


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This morning we ran a story on a new free search engine, YaCy. YaCy has no web portal like that of traditional search engines, instead it relies on users to download a peer-to-peer software client, which crawls the web from users’ computers, and indexes sites they visit. In the course of preparing that story, I sent a requests for comment to Karsten Gerloff, president of the Free Software Foundation of Europe, a major supporter of YaCy. Since most of the buzz about YaCy has been in terms of its potential challenge to Google, I asked him what his thoughts about YaCy as a credible rival to Google were. He had this to say:

Karsten Gerloff, President of the FSFE

YaCy isn't a challenge to Google, and is a long way from becoming
one. It's not even intended to challenge Google. What it is is a
new, exciting approach to web search that empowers users.

Despite the trend in reporting, then, it seems that YaCy is less about displacing the search giants, Google and Bing, and more about doing something new and different. Mr. Gerloff went on to say the following:

Right now, Microsoft and Google are the only two significant
companies left that do web crawling on a massive scale. Even when
you use a different search portal, there's a fair chance that the
results come from one of those two. Both Google and Microsoft's
Bing are huge operations, spending hundreds of millions of
dollars each year.

YaCy's selling point (if you will) is not that it delivers better
results faster than Bing or Google -- it currently doesn't do
that. It's the fact that it's a distributed, peer-to-peer system.
With YaCy, there is no central server that can fail. There is no
central instance that can decide to show some results and not
others, or how to rank the results.

Instead, each user gets to make these decisions locally. The
portal at is just a limited demonstration. To get
the full experience, you have to install YaCy locally (this
usually takes no more than a minute). Then your computer will be
part of the YaCy network, and you will be able to draw on the
whole network for search results.

He went on to explain that the FSFE’s interest in YaCy stems less from its potential to supplant Google, and more for the step forward it represents in distributive systems.

At FSFE, we find YaCy highly interesting because it's part of a
trend to replace centralised systems with distributed ones. We
have Diaspora and other distributed social networks as an
alternative to Facebook. We have and its
platform as an alternative to Twitter, which users can install and
run on their own servers. YaCy is one of less than a handful (to
my knowledge) of distributed search engines.

So, no, YaCy isn't a "Google killer", as some of the more
excitable journalists out there have claimed. It's an innovative,
distributed search engine that empowers users. Neither FSFE nor
YaCy have the desire to "kill" Google. Instead, I'd be happy to
see the company put its massive number of engineers to work on
distributed systems, and its strategy folks to figure out how to
make money from this next great wave, while giving power and
freedom to the users.

In sum, then, YaCy seems to be less about bringing down Google, and more about doing something new and innovative with search in a world that is increasingly dependent on cloud computing.

For more information about YaCy, see here.

For more information about the Free Software Foundation Europe, and some of the other distributed systems it supports, see here and here.