YaCy, a German search company brought into being by the Free Software Foundation of Europe (FSFE) has released a peer-to-peer search engine that uses networked systems to index the web and deliver search results.
YaCy (pronounced “ya see”) is an attempt to match the breadth and power of Google’s index in a decentralized way. Rather than using large databases to power searches and build indexes, every individual who downloads and runs the YaCy software is helping out.
Additionally, no user search information is stored and all searches are encrypted, giving YaCy strong marks on the privacy front.
Michael Christen, the YaCy project leader, stated his motives for the project. “[Search is] 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.”
But how does it work?
To use an example you may be familiar with, this technique is a close cousin to torrenting; the power, upload/download, and information storehouse of all the systems on the network are being used to conduct the search and keep the database together.
The systems running YaCy continue to crawl the web (much as the Googlebot does) even when the user isn’t actively browsing, and the sites the user visits are automatically added to the index. When someone conducts a YaCy search, every system on the peer-to-peer network chips in equally. Currently, there are about 600 systems on that network – enough to have indexed 1.4 billion pages of content. However, as of launch, the network (according to a BBC report) “struggled to handle all the queries coming its way.”
Karsten Gerloff, president of the Free Software Foundation of Europe (a not-for-profit organization), made it clear that YaCy isn’t meant to be the next big thing in search. He stated, “YaCy isn’t a challenge to Google, and is a long way from becoming one. It’s not even intended to challenge Google.”
However, YaCy offers some unique advantages. Gerloff explains, “There is no central server that can fail. There is no central instance that can decide to show some results and not others.” This means that YaCy has the potential to be more stable and resilient while simultaneously being almost impossible to censor (for better or worse).
Gerloff really got to the point when he said his objective was “to see [Google] 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.”
In other words, while far from being a “Google killer,” YaCy has introduced an innovative system that could benefit both users and businesses. If the peer-to-peer search concept proves its worth, the major search engines may decide to decentralize, increasing information stability and privacy in the process.
Do you like the idea? Are you going to download YaCy yourself? In five years, do you think Google and Bing will be decentralized? Give us your thoughts in the comments, below.