DuckDuckGo and Bing are not true alternatives – they’re just worse versions of Google.
The next Google can’t just be an input box that spits out links. We need new thinking to create something much better than what came before.
In the last few years, different groups of people came to the same conclusion, and started working on the next generation of search engines.
For this new generation, privacy is necessary, and invasive ads are not an option. But that’s where the commonalities end. Beyond that, they’ve all taken the idea of a search engine in very different directions.
Kagi – The Customization Engine
Why should everyone have the same search experience? We all have our own preferences about how things should look and work.
Kagi is the most customizable search engine ever. You can change everything, from surface level appearances, to the final ranking of results.
“Everybody has different preferences of how they want a search engine to look and feel. Our goal is to provide tools and empower users to do that instead of trying to be smart and creating an average search engine for an average user. There’s no average human.” - Vladimir Prelovac, Founder of Kagi
On the visual side, you can modify everything about the way things look, even being able to write your own custom CSS.
More importantly, you can customize the way the search engine itself works. Do you want search suggestions? How detailed should the snippets be?
There’s also a list of widgets you can toggle like “Instant Answers”, “Inline Discussions” and “Listicles”. These widgets are groupings of specific types of results which you can choose to include in the results page. If you never want to see another listicle again in your life, just toggle the listicle widget off.
But you can take the search customization even further than that, down to the level of individual websites. You can create your own domain rankings to tell Kagi what websites should be boosted, and what should be down ranked.
You can even outright block sites you never want to see again (looking at you pinterest), and pin sites if you want them always on top (hello reddit).
“Nobody has their home screen on iPhone looking exactly the same. I think people deserve that in search, especially being such an important part of our lives. It’s one of the most used products out there, and it’s astonishing how little customization you can do.” - Vladimir Prelovac, Founder of Kagi
Kagi also allows you to create website filters called lenses. In any given lens, you can include or exclude specific sites, and more.
When searching you can turn on different lenses to see results that match those filters. Kagi comes with pre-built lenses for things like Discussions, Programming Help and Recipes.
Another thing that Kagi focuses on is delivering non-commercial results. Kagi has an entire index of non-commercial websites, which they’ve also made available separately as Teclis. This allows them to find results that you won’t find on Google and most other search engines.
For example, when searching for “steve jobs”, the top results are similar to Google with mostly informational stuff. But right after that, we’re greeted by an “Interesting Finds” section, which has a fun blog post by Derek Sivers, an article filled with stories of Steve Jobs in Japan, and some other cool things you can’t find on Google.
Neeva – The Everything Engine
Why should a search engine only index the web? A lot of the information you care about is scattered across your email, your note taking app, and other places.
Neeva is the search engine that allows you to search everything.
Right now you can connect Google Apps, Dropbox, Notion and more.
No matter what you’re looking for, or where it is, Neeva will help you find it. Searching your personal documents is as simple as adding “@me” to the query. This gives everyone the ability to have a personal search engine.
This is one of many things that makes Neeva interesting.
Instant Inline Results
Since Google is an ads based business, they are incentivized to take you to the search results page, even when it’s obvious what you want.
If you typed in “amazon” hoping to get to amazon.com, Google would first take you to the search results page, so they can show you an ad, which amazon.com has to pay for just to be the first result for their own company name.
On the Neeva browser app, you get instant inline search results as you type, allowing you to go directly to the page you’re looking for. You can do in one click what Google will always want you to do in two clicks.
“We have the opportunity to innovate on the browser in a lot of interesting ways because we’re not beholden to how many search results page views we get with ads on them. Our business model unlocks our ability to help people not have to see the search results page as much.” - Darin Fisher, Head of Neeva Browser
And it’s not just a shortcut for navigating to domains. Type “best thai food” and immediately get a link to the relevant yelp page.
You can still go to the search results page if you need to, but this feature allows you to be twice as fast as Google.
Another unique feature, only available on the Neeva browser app for now, is their similarity search functionality called NeevaScope.
Wherever you are on the web, you can tap the NeevaScope button to find similar and related pages to the one you’re currently on. This is powerful for exploration.
I tried it out on Tim Urban’s Neuralink post and found some other interesting content, including one that criticized Tim Urban’s post.
Neeva recognizes that there are different categories of websites that may be of interest to you for a given query, and provides filters to narrow things down.
“Google creates this view, I call it the flat-earth view, where every site is just like every other site. We go out of our way to tell you additional things you should know, and allow you to filter on these attributes.” - Sridhar Ramaswamy, CEO of Neeva
For example, when searching for legal information, you can filter to “Legal Providers” to see results from companies that provide legal services, or “User Generated Content” to get discussion forums or blogs.
One type of query that Neeva does particularly well at is shopping. Neeva knows that reviews are important, so they make it easy to find them.
The interface is geared towards helping you quickly figure out what products are worth looking more into, and connecting you to good review sources.
You.com – The App Engine
When you search a coding problem on Google, you’ll find a Stack Overflow answer. When you search on You.com, the Code Complete app will generate the code snippet from scratch using a language model.
You.com sees the web as a collection of apps, and their goal is to match your query with the most relevant apps. For coding questions, there is an AI Code Generator app, but Stack Overflow is also an “app” which you can open in the sidebar and easily copy code from.
The Quick Facts app can give you short factual information, and the Medium app allows you to easily read articles in the sidebar.
Eventually people will be able to build their own You.com apps with unique interactions, and publish them to the You.com platform.
For many apps, you’ll be able to open a sidebar that has a summary of the important content from that page.
For example, if searching for food recipes, the All Recipes app and the New York Times Cooking app both allow you to open the recipe in the sidebar. This summarized view gives you exactly the information you want – a list of ingredients, and the instructions.
For coding, the Stack Overflow app and W3 Schools app allow you to click a “copy to clipboard” button to get the code.
Filters in You.com are a collection of apps particularly suited to some task. For example, the “YouCode” filter will give you apps like Stack Overflow, Code Complete, and Github, while the “Social” filter allows you to search social media apps.
This isn’t exactly a search feature, but it highlights the core strength of You.com, which is their AI capabilities. YouWrite is an AI writing assistant. You tell it what to write about, and it generates some paragraphs for you.
I told YouWrite to write about why everyone should watch anime, and this is what it gave me:
There are plenty of reasons why everyone should watch anime. For one, anime is a great form of entertainment. It can be exciting, thrilling, and suspenseful – just like any good movie or TV show. But what makes anime so unique is that it often incorporates elements of Japanese culture and folklore that you won’t find in other forms of entertainment.
Another reason to watch anime is because it can be educational. Anime has been known to teach people about different cultures, history, and even science! There are also many documentaries available that focus on various aspects of the anime industry – such as how certain shows are made or the history behind specific characters or plot lines.
Lastly, watching anime can help you learn Japanese! While not all shows are dubbed into English (or any other language), there are many websites where you can find translations for free. And if you’re feeling really ambitious, there are plenty of courses available online which will help you learn to read and write in Japanese too!
Something like this has the potential to become a powerful research tool. Instead of searching for “World War 2” and trying to find good sources, you can have YouWrite generate an essay about World War 2, and research the arguments it makes as a starting point.
As an aside, if you were wondering whether the Dead Internet Theory had any chance of being true, here’s your answer.
Andi – The Conversation Engine
Do search engines have to be so impersonal? We’re used to just typing our query and getting back a list of links, but Andi flips the script on this.
Andi gives you a conversational search experience that’s more like “messaging with a smart friend who answers questions and sends you useful links”.
Andi’s focus is on answering specific questions by extracting an answer from the best source.
For example, searching “what is the gdp per capita of china vs new zealand” on Google returns a badly formatted table without the answer.
While searching the same thing on Andi will extract the right information for you.
The way that Andi generates search results is different from the other search engines on this list. It focuses on understanding the intent and topics of your query, then tries to predict the best sources for your answer. After that, it queries the relevant APIs and vertical search engines directly, generating results in realtime.
There is no index.
Another feature of Andi worth mentioning is the reader view, which allows you to view the content of pages without having to open them. This allows you to have a consistent browsing experience, and avoid ads and clutter.
Brave Search – The Independent Engine
It’s time to address the elephant in the room. Every search engine I’ve mentioned so far, no matter how many cool features they’re building, does not have a fully independent index.
They’re all getting some portion of their results from Google or Bing.
Building an independent index is a very hard problem given the current size of the web. You can count the number of search engines with a fully independent index on one hand.
Many search engines on this list aspire to have a fully independent index at some point, but none of them are more focused on this than Brave Search.
For any search you do on Brave, you’ll see what percentage of the results came from their own index. They make this number loud and clear, because they want it to be 100%.
“Brave Search can operate as stand-alone, the rest cannot as they rely on Google or Bing. Most search engines are not independent search engines, and while they may provide some value, they are qualitatively different from what Brave Search is doing. Independence is not something directly actionable, but it’s a fundamental property. Independence means that Brave Search would continue to work even if Google and Microsoft opposed it. Independence means choice and diversity.” - Josep M. Pujol, Chief of Search at Brave
You won’t see much cool new functionality on Brave Search, because they are laser focused on the one thing they believe to be important to a search engine.
Web Discovery Project
The web discovery project is Brave’s solution to one of the major problems with privacy focused search engines. Google can provide good results because they collect a ton of data on everyone, and they use that to improve the search experience. Privacy focused search engines don’t collect that kind of data, which limits their potential.
With the web discovery project, users can opt-in to contribute anonymous search and web browsing data to help improve Brave’s results. This gives Brave a way to get the same kind of data that Google uses to optimize queries, but without comprising on user privacy.
If you don’t like it, you have nothing to worry about, because it’s off by default.
Goggles – Collaborative Mini Search Engines
The most important innovation of Brave is yet to be released. Goggles allows users to create mini search engines within Brave. Anyone can create detailed ranking specifications that Brave will use when returning results. People can collaborate on goggles and share them.
Some examples of goggles that could be created are “top tech blogs”, “drop the top 1000 most popular domains” (which implements the general idea of an older search engine, MillionShort), or “cooking sites my mom would recommend”.
Goggles are easily toggled on and off, so users can leave and enter different filter bubbles as they please. Unlike Google, these filter bubbles are intentionally created by groups of people, not decided by one centralized algorithm that’s working in the background. Goggles can be a useful tool to explore the web from different perspectives.
Goggles is effectively making search engine creation accessible to anyone. It’s very hard for a regular person to build an entire search engine from scratch, but it will be easy for anyone to create a goggle that represents their idea of a perfect search engine.
This Is Just The Beginning
This new wave of search engines is only just getting started. Many of them have only recently launched.
Even if they aren’t perfect yet, the paths they’re exploring can lead to promising new innovation in the stagnant search space.
“The search technology was developed a decade ago. It’s a bet that no one else will come up with a better search technology. So you invest in Google because you’re betting against technological innovation in search.” - Peter Thiel, 2012
Betting against innovation in search has been a great move for the last ten years. The next ten years look a little bit more hopeful.
I’ll be posting interviews with the founders of each of these search engines soon. If you’re interested in getting a more in-depth look at their stories, and how they think about things, stay tuned by signing up for my newsletter.
Appendix 1: Interview with Brave Search
I have now published a full length interview with Brave Search which you can read here.
Appendix 2: Interview with Neeva
You can read a full length interview with Neeva here.
Appendix 3: Interview with Kagi
You can read a full length interview with Kagi here.
We are also developing a next-generation search engine. It is the only project in the world that does not start with technology, such as how intuitively a genius designer can change the search engine by his sensibility. That's also from Osaka, Japan.