Search engine aims to give power to the people

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Five years in the making, a new 'uncensorable' search engine has launched.

YaCy - pronounced 'ya see' is an open source, peer-to-peer search engine that can search the public internet or be incorporated into an intranet. There's no central server, with search results coming instead from a growing network of peers.

It's fully decentralized, all users are equal, and the network doesn't store user search requests. It's basically inmpossible for anyone to censor it, it's developers say.

"Most of what we do on the internet involves search. It's the vital link between us and the information we're looking for. For such an essential function, we cannot rely on a few large companies, and compromise our privacy in the process," says Michael Christen, YaCy's project leader.

"YaCy's free search is the vital link between free users and free information. YaCy hands control over search back to us, the users."

Search terms are encrypted before they leave the user's computer, and the system learns the user's preferences and ranks results accordingly - so that no external entity chooses results or how to rank them.

"We are moving away from the idea that services need to be centrally controlled. Instead, we are realising how important it is to be independent, and to create infrastructure that doesn't have a single point of failure," says Karsten Gerloff, president of the Free Software Foundation Europe, which is supporting the project.

"In the future world of distributed, peer-to-peer systems, Free Software search engines like YaCy are a vital building block."

The YaCy search page - which is open to all - is already becoming intermittently overloaded. It currently has more than 600 peer operators, but needs more. It's got about 1.4 billion documents in its index, and had about 130,000 search queries  when it opened yesterday.

Anyone interested in taking on Google themselves can download the software, here. It takes about three minutes, say the developers.