DIY search engine takes on Google
Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search sites have a new rival called YaCy.
Backed by free software activists, YaCy aims to literally put search into the hands of users by distributing its indexing engine around the net.
Anyone can download the YaCy software and help the search system improve and spread the load of queries.
Its creators also hope YaCy will be much harder to censor than existing systems that pipe queries through centralised servers.
The YaCy search page was opened to the public on 28 November and currently has about 600 participants or peers that share the load of queries and the task of indexing information.
"Most of what we do on the internet involves search," said Michael Christen, YaCy's project leader in a statement. "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," he said.
YaCy (pronounced "Ya See") is supported by the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) which campaigns on digital rights and tries to help people control their own digital destiny.
FSFE said YaCy helps privacy by encrypting all queries and by letting peer owners build up and manage their own search profile.
"We are moving away from the idea that services need to be centrally controlled," said Karsten Gerloff, president of the FSFE. "Instead, we are realising how important it is to be independent, and to create infrastructure that doesn't have a single point of failure."
YaCy software is available for Windows, Linux and MacOS and users are being encouraged to download and run it for themselves.
The first version of YaCy has been used and refined on intranets for the FSFE and the Sciencenet search site.
On its opening day, the YaCy demo page struggled to handle all the queries coming its way.
The prospects for YaCy's success are mixed as there have many other pretenders to Google's crown. One of the most notable was a search engine called Cuil that was set up by two former Google workers.
Cuil launched in 2008 and struggled to win over significant numbers of users. It shut down in late September, 2010.