This is an in-depth overview of the best alternative search engines on the market, with a focus on privacy, intelligence, and creativity.
Twenty-five years ago, three computer science students at Montreal’s McGill University created Archie, the world’s first internet search engine. Archie, God bless it, couldn’t do much more than index FTP archives, but it set the stage for everything to come, and the search engine landscape has since changed considerably.
The early nineties saw platforms like Lycos, AltaVista, and Excite enter the fray. Then came Yahoo!, Dogpile, and Ask Jeeves. By the time Google dropped anchor in 1998, search engines were a dime a dozen.
Over time, the needs and expectations of the average internet user evolved and became more sophisticated. As a result, what was once considered groundbreaking in search engine technology is now old news. Search speed is still important of course, as is accuracy and scope, but newer concepts like privacy, security, and intelligence see higher and higher demand.
While Google, Baidu (China), and Yahoo! are the three most popular search engines worldwide, they haven’t tapped into the changing public consciousness as readily as other, smaller companies have in recent years.
Many of these smaller search engines maintain just as much search power as the big three while offering newly coveted features. If you’re looking for an alternative search engine, try one of the following.
DuckDuckGo Search Engine
While it might not garner as much attention as the Googles and Bings of the world, DuckDuckGo is the big name in private search engine technology. Launched in 2008 by Gabriel Weinberg, the company’s primary focus is to provide users with a full range of search options while protecting their anonymity.
How does DuckDuckGo accomplish such a feat? If you’ll permit a crude analogy:
Think of the internet as a giant warehouse – the one from Indiana Jones if that helps – and every search engine as a warehouse curator.
Now imagine you’re looking for the Ark of the Covenant. First you ask the Google curator where to find the Ark, and Google takes your hand and walks you through the aisles until you reach your destination. You retrieve the Ark, hopefully without having your face melted off, and off you go.
Here’s the problem: The Google curator now knows who you are, and what you’re interested in (holy relics, divine power, etc.).
Now imagine you choose the DuckDuckGo curator. Rather than walk right up to the guy and state your request, you’re required to deal with the curator through a middleman. The middleman is the one who shows his face to the curator, the one who’s led to the Ark of the Covenant, and the one who returns to you with the requested information.
Think of him as a forklift driver that gets directions from the curator.
The DuckDuckGo curator never sees your face. For you, the result is the same as if you’d gone with Google, but you remain completely anonymous. And for a bonus, if anyone were to have their face melted off, first up would be the middle man.
This is how DuckDuckGo ensures your privacy and security. While most search engines retain your personal information and leak it to the websites you visit, DuckDuckGo masks the origin of your search request so external sites can’t identify you.
Despite all the extra precautions, DuckDuckGo still offers everything you’d expect from a search engine, including images, news, and places.
The service even offers a few features others don’t, such as Instant Answers and !bangs. These !bangs, as DuckDuckGo calls them, allow users to conduct a search directly on another search engine.
For example, type “!amazon carpet cleaner” into the search bar below and hit enter. This will transport you right to an Amazon.com page and show you results for the “carpet cleaner” search.
This saves you a couple steps and increases productivity. There are thousands more !bangs to choose from, like:
- !Reddit Bernie Sanders
- !dafont sans serif
- !dictionary bloviate.
Try another one out in the DuckDuckGo search bar below. If you feel like exploring, click the link for thousands of different !bangs in the link above to find a different integration.
The above link leads to a list of 6,491+ bangs and is also a great place to learn about new websites and social media platforms.
Disconnect Search – Search Engine for Privacy
First appearing back in 2010 as a stand-alone search engine, Disconnect Search has since pivoted to become a browser add-on, and can be integrated into almost any search engine on the market.
Like DuckDuckGo, Disconnect Search’s prime directive is privacy and security.
Once installed, Disconnect Search asks you to choose from a list of search engines. You can then search via the extension’s drop-down menu or your browser’s search bar.
When you enter your search term, Disconnect Search creates an instant VPN connection. The VPN, or virtual private network, disguises your ISP address to prevent the search engine and external websites from identifying you.
As an example, let’s say you live in Scotland. Disconnect Search might conceal your identity by portraying you from Argentina.
While DuckDuckGo is free to users and supports itself mainly through ads, Disconnect Search relies on a pay-what-you-want contribution model. The service also offers premium apps that protect all of your devices from invisible tracking, malware, and data breaches.
Wolfram Alpha – Knowledge Search Engine
If any piece of technology is going to one day enslave humanity, my money’s on Wolfram Alpha. Technically a computational knowledge engine rather than a search engine, Wolfram Alpha is less about searching the internet and more about:
- solving math problems
- explaining philosophical paradoxes
- calculating current tidal information
Released in 2009 by Stephen Wolfram’s Wolfram Research company, Wolfram Alpha’s mission is to:
- “collect and curate all objective data”
- implement every known
- make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything.”
Here are some examples of what that looks like in action.
- Submit the names of multiple actors to discover which movies they acted in together.
- Divide the maximum depth of the Atlantic Ocean in feet by the runtime of The Godfather.
- Multiply the human hair growth rate in mph by the speed of the fastest land animal in mph by the speed of the slowest land mammal in mph.
- Calculate the fat in a ridiculously large number of whoppers. Let’s try 50 followed by 136 zeros.
- Learn the Morse code for power rangers.
- See the nutrition facts for almost any food.
- Compare the stats of different companies.
- Ask it to tell you a joke.
- Determine what planes are currently overhead.
Okay, this last one is too clever not to be explained.
After you submit the query, Wolfram Alpha uses geolocation to establish where you are in the world.
Then it cross-references your location with all available flight databases, pulling necessary metrics such as:
- plane angle
- flight number
- aircraft type
The data that we easily have access to is notable impressive.
Kngine – Semantic Search Engine
Kngine is one of the few search engines on the market that might give Wolfram Alpha a run for its money.
Founded in 2010 by brothers Haytham and Ashraf El Fadeel, Kngine was started with the goal of eventually answering every single question asked of it.
Similar to Wolfram Alpha’s ability to compute factual queries, Kngine achieves similar results through natural language processing techniques.
However, Kngine claims superiority over Wolfram Alpha when it comes to the really tough questions.
In fact, the El Fadeel brothers boast that the only question answering system more powerful than Kngine is IBM Watson – you know, the thing that was on Jeopardy?
To gain a better understanding of how Kngine and Wolfram Alpha differ, let’s compare a few queries.
- When asked “When will I die?”, Kngine provides this eloquent interpretation: No one knows, but most of us will live until the machinery wears out. That could be from 50-100+ years. Some of us die in accidents of some sort. You never know. Meanwhile, Wolfram Alpha takes a more literal approach and generates data on average life expectancies.
- When you input “Random number”, Wolfram Alpha presents you with an actual random number. I got 827. Meanwhile, Kngine brings up the music video for Random Numbers by the educational company Numberphile.
- When asked “How many stars are there?”, Wolfram Alpha comes up with 3×10^23. Kngine disagrees and argues for 100 billion.
- When asked “What is love?”, Kngine gives you a detailed answer PLUS a brick of text listing various media based on the concept of love. This list includes films like Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason and books like Kama Sutra for 21st Century Lovers and Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love. Meanwhile, Wolfram Alpha offers a series of succinct definitions, a smaller list of love-related media, and other interesting tidbits, such as the frequency with which the word “love” is spoken and the word’s Scrabble score.
Answer The Public – Creative Search Engine
While the aforementioned search engines maintain some degree of notoriety, at least in certain circles, Answer The Public has nearly no internet presence. Nobody is talking about it. Nobody is hashtagging it. And yet the service it offers is pretty darn compelling.
The tool was built by the folks at CoverageBook, a PR company, to help businesses learn more about their consumers. When you submit a search, the tool generates a beautifully designed visualization of the search’s most popular related search terms and queries.
Other tools offer a similar service, of course, but Answer The Public claims to dig deeper than its competitors and provide a richer array of results.
The search engine also employs a mascot called The Seeker, a bearded chap who hovers impatiently behind the search bar, goading you on with his constant jittering. If nothing else, The Seeker alone is worth the visit. The dude is just entrancing.
Sidenote: This tool is a must have for keyword research and headline copywriting.
If your search needs ever extend beyond the capabilities of a Google or a Bing, you’ll find solace in one of the many search engines discussed in this article.
DuckDuckGo and Disconnect Search have your privacy and security needs covered, Wolfram Alpha and Kngine are there to answer the brain-twisters, and Answer The Public delivers in-depth consumer analytics while subtly coercing you to grow a beard.
It’s tough to predict what we internet users will want next, but for now, our needs are being met.