It would be a massive understatement to say that search engines have become a pain. Most have been looking for ways to distance themselves from the mega-giants like Google & Bing (Microsoft), however nothing so far has proven themselves worthy. In more disturbing realities, those who swore to put us first made deals with the devils and gave us up. Alternative search engines have a reputation of being slow and having relatively garbage results compared to the juggernaut of Google, forcing us to cut our losses. Throughout the years I've hopped search engines to DuckDuckGo, Startpage, Qwant, Ecosia, and Brave Search. None of them really checked the boxes for me.
All of that changed when I discovered Kagi. But before I discuss about that, let me share my experiences with the others.
Naturally we start at the beginning, good ol' DuckDuckGo. DuckDuckGo came to life around 2008, so they've been around for a while. What started out as a great alternative to Google turned pretty sour in recent years, with other search engines catching up and surpassing them. First, DuckDuckGo relies on Bing for its index. While Bing does a decent job, it's nowhere near Google and it shows.
DuckDuckGo is just proxied Bing... and that's it. There's really nothing special to it. So, how do they make money? Advertising. This will be common so pay attention to this.
DuckDuckGo's also found themselves in hot water recently where the search agreement forces them to allow Microsoft trackers.
My personal experience with DuckDuckGo when I used it was initially good but that changed real quickly. I switched away just a year into trying it around 2019 or so. I was not getting the results I wanted and found myself using their bangs feature (which is actually good) to go to Google more often. Next.
Next up is Startpage. This is the first alternative search engine I actually enjoyed using. They've also been around for a while, starting in 2006. The biggest difference here is that instead of Bing, they use Google's index. Should be a perfect match right? Well, sorta.
When it comes to most searches, Startpage did a really good job. I was finally getting the results I expected most of the time, and there are some really good features they have which other search engines don't.
The biggest one is "Anonymous View". Buzzwordy name aside, it's a quick way to prevent things like malicious scripts, fingerprinters, and to hide your IP address. I actually really like this.
Startpage seems like the perfect search engine! It has what I was looking for and results are what I would expect. But, there's just one teeny tiny problem... I can't use it!
Startpage has an EXTREMELY aggressive blocking system which has blocked even my home connection. I use a VPN for most of my browsing, and it's amplified even further. Sometimes you'll be able to solve a captcha to whitelist yourself temporarily, but most times you'll find yourself blocked outright. This can get really annoying and is the biggest reason why I stopped using Startpage.
Also, Startpage seems slower than any other search engine I've tried. Results don't populate quickly enough, and it feels like I'm waiting 3+ seconds for results. This isn't the hugest of deals but when I am prevented from using a privacy-based service when using privacy and security tools, that's a huge problem.
As for how Startpage makes money? You guessed it, advertising! Startpage is majority controlled by System1, an advertising/marketing company.
Sorry Startpage, I really wanted to like you, but it just didn't work out in the end.
Finally, after skipping some others I tried using (with similar results to above), I arrived at Brave Search. This beta search engine is fairly new and as a user of the Brave browser it caught my attention, and they were doing things in a radical way.
Instead of relying on a provider like Google or Bing to provide them results, Brave has chosen to build their own index from the ground up. This is a groundbreaking task, and is not an easy thing to do. I've been a user of Brave Search since the closed beta, and I will say this: It's extremely impressive. In my own experience I found Brave Search to give good results. The UI is also pretty good:
However, I found the results to still lack some. When it came to specific coding searches it was anything but usable. I had to use Google (or even DuckDuckGo) to find something relevant.
Brave makes money through their browser advertising, and will soon include ads in their search:
Do you see the trend here? Every model is based on commercial results and advertising. Search engines have become ways to sell you something rather than give you meaningful results, and decide on things like products for yourself. This can be seen as a win-win for the search engine but not so much for the user. However, there is one company on a mission to change that.
Kagi (pronounced as kah-gee) is a premium search engine in open beta. Kagi seeks to humanize the web, get advertising & tracking out of search, and back to information that you actually want to see. There's a lot here, so pay attention.
Kagi uses multiple indexes, along with their own noncommercial index. This makes it extremely useful when trying to search for products, and you want a non-commercially affiliated opinion.
Do you see the difference here? There's no ads in your face for a company that thinks their laptop is the best. If you with the noncommercial lens in Kagi, you can also get a proper opinion instead of one by an affiliate blogger in bed with the companies trying to get a commission.
UI & Performance
Kagi's UI is also really solid and resembles Google in a way. I really like it, and it's an easy transition for most people. Also... holy goddamn Kagi is FAST. Like insanely fast. I go from search to results in under a second. This is extremely refreshing.
Kagi also puts you in control. Don't like a site? Downrank it or block it on your end. Want it higher? Done.
My favorite feature of Kagi is the lenses. You get 7 by default, and they specifically fi1lter your search results to a subset of sites. For example, if you want to see results just from programming sites, you can toggle the "Programming" filter and search your error. No more junk or bad sites.
Customization & Privacy
Kagi also has many customization options to get things the way you want them to, there's even options for Custom CSS.
When it comes to privacy, Kagi collects almost nothing. There are absolutely zero trackers, fingerprinters, IP address or search history logging, and everything is proxied on their end.
We collect information about your location when you use our services, which helps us offer features like driving directions, search results for things near you, and ads based on your general location.
- GPS and other sensor data from your device
- IP address
- Activity on Google services, such as your searches and places you label like home or work
When you’re not signed in to a Google Account, we store the information we collect with unique identifiers tied to the browser, application, or device you’re using.
Yeah, so they're basically saying they own your life. Cool.
Experience & The Elephant In The Room
My overall experience with Kagi has been absolutely exceptional. I'm getting the results I want, the speediness I enjoy, and without any junk ad mountains. It's amazing to finally have a search engine that puts you first, and not just another number to try and convince.
But, there is an extremely hard pill to swallow that I need to address: Kagi, for unlimited use, is not free and will set you back $10 a month. At first glance, paying for a search engine seems like an absurd thing to do especially at that pricepoint. Why would you when Google is free? Why not just use Brave Search or another alternative search engine that's also privacy respecting? The reason for this is pretty obvious, but Kagi is 100% ad-free and searching external indexes costs money. They pay about $1 for every 80 or so searches, along with staff salaries and infrastructure costs.
Also, Kagi is not like those other search engines. Kagi achieves high quality results by taking the bullshit out of your search experience, and giving the tools for you to fine-tune it to your liking. Since there aren't ads or sponsored placements, your results will always be unbiased and to the point. They themselves explain it well:
Every “free” search engine out there comes with a hidden cost. Your private details pass through your searches, and search results influenced by advertising spends can influence your thoughts and actions. Businesses that monetize your data owe you more than just a "free" account! Our stand against ad-supported business models has created a 100% ad-free search experience, focused entirely on our users.
Below the covers, there's always the true cost. Kagi wants to be profitable, but it wants that to come from the user.
To sum it all up.... I love Kagi and I cannot recommend you enough to try it out for yourself. You can take it for a spin with their free plan that allows 50 searches a month. Even if you don't end up paying, you'll see what I mean when you finally get search results that make sense.
The $10/month or $120/year pricepoint can be a bit of a nailbiter, but that gives you unlimited searches and you are paying with something other than your data. For me personally, I went all in on the yearly plan because I was so satisfied with the experience I got, and I want to see Kagi survive. It will only survive because of people like us.
So, I will no longer delay. If you're interested, head on over to kagi.com and create an account now. I promise you, you will never look back to Google, DuckDuckGo, or any other search engine.