Today we published a press release about a distributed Free Software search engine: YaCy 1.0. At FSFE, we don’t usually do press releases about new software. But this time, it’s about a broader point: The rise of distributed systems.
There are more and more Free Software projects that replace centrally run services with distributed ones. For example, identi.ca (running on status.net) offers a Free Software alternative to Twitter; diaspora and many others provide a free, distributed alternative to Facebook; and so forth.
Now YaCy fills a significant gap: A free, distributed search engine.
Search is a basic function of what we do on the web. Everyone of us does dozens, if not hundreds of web searches per day. Search engines determine what we see of the web, and what effectively remains hidden.
If a search engine is run by a single company, that company gets to decide how the results are generated and how they are ranked — in short, what you see, and what you don’t.
That company will also know what you’re currently interested in. The search terms you type in tell others a lot about what you’re up to. Targeted advertising is only the most benign use of this data.
YaCy works differently. It runs on each user’s computer, not on a server somewhere. It builds its own index of search results. Normally you share this search index with other YaCy users, but you can also decide to keep the index for yourself.
In this way, each user gets to fully control their own search engine.
It’s in the nature of this technology that at this early stage, results are better on some (usually computer-related topics) than others. This will improve as more users join and the network increases beyond its current ca. 600 peers. Remember the early days of Wikipedia? There was a similar phenomenon, but the gaps were soon filled.
So, go download YaCy, install it on your computer, and become part of the freeworld network!