Why I Decided to Build a Search Engine (And You Should Too)

This was originally posted on wbsrch.com. It is reproduced here to preserve history.

I’ve always wanted to build something big, but never had a burning desire to create any one specific thing. Instead I built lots of little things – small desktop apps, weekend websites, etc.

It wasn’t until AltaVista shut down that I realized that the world needs another search engine. Not just one, but dozens.

Almost all of the search greats have been shut down, bought and shelved, or replaced their engines with Google or Bing. The only real competition we have in English-language search is between Google and Bing, and Bing has been accused of copying Google’s results.

Bear with me for a bit. What I’m about to say will probably sound a bit tinfoil-hat. It’s all just speculation, but there are so many billions of dollars involved that at least some of this sounds plausible.

A search engine is the gateway to the world’s information. If you control
the gateway, you control the information. Knowledge is power, and
gatekeeping is big money. At this point, the leading gatekeeper has too
much money and power and the effects are causing real harm to businesses
and the world economy.

Each time Google changes its algorithm, hundreds or even thousands of businesses are damaged or destroyed. That’s the nature of godlike power – even if you’re just trying to use a little bit, there are side effects.

“Combatting spam” is the main reason cited for their algorithm changes. If you look
at it, much of what Google classifies as spam could just as easily be
classified as “things that don’t make us enough money”. They’re a public
company. They’re required to maximize revenue. To do otherwise would
expose them to shareholder lawsuits.

It’s easy to see the incentive for demoting sites that have ads that earn you 4 cents per
click in favor of sites that earn 12 you cents per click, or of doing
things that wipe out competing advertising companies. There has been an
ongoing war against “selling links”. That’s called advertising. What is
Google Adsense? It’s an ad service that sells links. Convenient, though,
that competing ad service text-link-ads.com was a casualty of this war on paid links, isn’t it?

Other things also seem suspicious, like the war on guest blogging. Is this Google being jealous of people finding other sites without going through their search engine?

Now we have another wave of chaos, which some people have referred to as “breaking the internet”.
Google added a “disavow links” tool and has many webmasters afraid to
link or be linked to for fear of an “unnatural link penalty”. I get one
or two emails a day asking to remove a link to a website because the
webmaster is afraid Google might not approve. Google has said (or
really, implied) that you don’t need to have links removed, but there’s
one benefit to less linking on the web: You’re less likely to find a
site without going through Google if there are no other links to it.

While this is going on, Google is also adding more direct answers to
searches. Things that you might click on a link to find before now show
up directly as answers so you never have to leave Google’s site. A
question like “How tall is the Eiffel Tower?” could have led you to an
exploration of lots of wonderful information about the Eiffel Tower. Now
it just gives you a fact, and you can go on to the next search. This
means Google is driving less traffic to websites and everyone who isn’t
Google is suffering, slowly but surely getting less traffic.

All of this sounds very much like anti-competitive practices to me, the kind
that you get hit with a regulatory hammer for. Even if only some of it
is true or intentional, it’s a dangerous abuse of power that needs to be
investigated. It’s fine if you want to be the biggest and best search
engine, but don’t be evil.

Why do they get away with it? Because webmasters and users let them. Websites are rarely built for Humans
anymore. Instead, they’re written for the Googlebot with Humans as an
afterthought. That’s why Demand Media was so successful – they designed
and created their content for Google search.

The world needs more search engines. That much power should not be concentrated in one
company’s hands. Next time you search, consider using something other
than the market leader. Bing, Blekko, DuckDuckGo, WbSrch, and Gigablast
are all options. I wish there were even more. If you have the skills,
now has never been a more important time to start building. It’ll take a
while to build something good, but it’s needed. Just don’t try to do it
the way Cuil did – trying to index more pages than Google and running
out of money before they figured out how to be useful. Find a way to be
useful to people, and focus on that.