Why YaCy isn’t a “Google killer”

This Monday we pushed out a press release about the distributed Free Software search engine YaCy. This PR saw impressive take-up around the world, and generated quite a bit of attention. Perhaps inevitably, some articles branded YaCy as a “Google killer”.

As covered by articles at Web Pro News and the Wall Street Journal‘s tech blog, that’s the wrong way to look at YaCy, and at distributed systems in general. It’s not about “killing” this or that company or service. Here’s what I told those journalists who took the time to dig a little deeper:

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.

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 crawling operations, costing 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 search.yacy.net 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.

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 identi.ca and its status.net 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.

We maintain a list of distributed projects in many categories in FSFE’s wiki. If you know one that’s missing, please let us know. If you’re a Fellow, you can edit the page directly.

And here’s the conclusion:

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.