Decentralization continues to be one of the main factors motivating a significant portion of businesses to identify with Web3 technologies. While Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites get a lot of attention for being centralized hubs, I don’t know of anything more centralized than search, where Google keeps 92% market share. A few upstarts like DuckDuckGo have carved out niche percentages, but no company has managed to dent Google’s dominant market position.
Pre-search seeks to change that with a decentralized approach to build a better search engine. The company was originally founded by Colin Pope in 2017, in response to the challenges he faced competing with Google in its previous start-up ShopCity.com. In an interview with The New Stack, Pape said: “I built a prototype for Presearch thinking of it as the Switzerland of search, with a multi-search user interface that would allow a group of search engines to break the Google’s hold on search, but that those individual search experiences are always respected.
Over time, Presearch has evolved to include some Web3 elements. Pape said: “The vision has evolved to have a cryptocurrency at the heart of everything, rewarding people for using research, and [making] the currency the payment mechanism mandated for the advertising platform, to give it a source of demand and ultimately allow all these different contributors to participate in the ecosystem.
Presearch moved from its testnet environment to the mainnet this week. Its decentralized infrastructure consists of 65,000 nodes, with a significant concentration in the United States at this point. These nodes are gradually being migrated from testnet to mainnet. As part of the move to the mainnet, they expanded their node gateways to increase geographic distribution, with additional gateways in Frankfurt, Germany, and Singapore. In addition to routing search traffic, gateways also anonymize searches as they are passed to individual nodes, which provide results that ultimately appear in a web page. Additional geographic distribution is expected as the network grows.
Like other Web3 projects, part of the incentive to run a node is to earn PRE tokens, which is the Presearch cryptocurrency. Nodes run in Docker containers. Pre-research offers full documentation on installation and, like other Web3 projects, there is a lively support community on Discord. There is even a community effort to support nodes running on Raspberry Pi hardware, called Preberrywhich keeps the barrier to entry reasonably low compared to other Web3 projects.
Developing for Presearch
One of the reasons I find Presearch interesting is their approach to feature development. If you’re one of the 92% of searchers who use Google, you’re probably familiar with the knowledge panels that appear next to search results, like in the example below, from a search on Docker.
Pape explains, “Our community is really the only way to have more developers working on search than Google. We’re a pretty small team, so the only way to compete is to allow the community to participate and identify those niche opportunities where Google and others will never go and where we can deliver a high-value on-page experience.Presearch intends to have an incentive program in the near future to further encourage the building of community packages. They also plan to offer users a choice if multiple developers offer a useful package for the knowledge panel results on the page.
Another opportunity for developers to engage with Presearch is to create highly targeted search experiences around niche topics, which then feed into the Presearch result set.
Is the future of research decentralized?
DuckDuckGo and Brave both captured small portions of the huge search space, along with a handful of other niche competitors. Presearch’s decentralized approach to integrating both the infrastructure and the search functionality of a large community is certainly a novel approach that may have growing appeal over time.
Currently, Presearch has 3.8 million registered users who generate 150 million monthly searches. That’s a small fraction of Google’s single-day search volume. However, with a focus on anonymous browsing, a limited on-page advertising footprint, and the ability for a community of developers to add value, Presearch has significant growth potential.
The New Stack is a wholly owned subsidiary of Insight Partners, an investor in the following companies mentioned in this article: Docker.