Can blockchain-based search engines beat Google?

Web3 blockchain-based search engines have a number of advantages for users and site owners, but are they compelling enough to beat Google?
3 July 2023

Blockchain security: digital ledgers can help validate that web content belongs to a particular site and hasn’t been lifted from elsewhere. And there’s a long list of benefits to blockchain-based search engines.

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There’s a wave of interest in new ways to discover content online and that includes the use of Web3 architecture such as digital ledgers and decentralization to reshape the search landscape. Entrants – each with their own variation on the theme – include Presearch, Timpi, Kinic, and Kin, to give just a few Web3-enabled examples. But the big question is can blockchain-based search engines beat Google?

Google has dominated the search engine landscape for years and has proven impossible to displace. Most recently, Neeva shut down its answer engine having failed to convince sufficient numbers of subscribers to sign up. The big challenge – according to the statement given by Neeva co-founders Sridhar Ramaswamy (ex-SVP of Ads at Google) and Vivek Raghunathan (ex-VP of Monetisation at YouTube) – wasn’t building a capable search engine, it was getting users to switch services.

Muscle memory is strong and big-name content discovery tools are deeply embedded in the ecosystems used by millions of internet users. But that’s not to say blockchain-based search engines don’t offer unique advantages. Web3 – the so-called next generation of the internet – has the potential to shift the balance of power away from tech giants such as Google, Microsoft, and other vendors.

Benefits of blockchain-based search engines

Today, changes in search algorithms can make or break websites, and site owners are left guessing as to what’s happening behind the scenes. SEO tools can provide some insight, but far better if search ranking schemes were out in the open and decentralized, putting power back in the hands of users who could upvote pages that served their needs and flag content to be reviewed.

And this highlights some of the transparency that Web3 brings (together with security and privacy, when needed). “If it’s decentralized, anyone can check the source code,” Wyatt Benno, co-founder of Kinic – a search engine built on the Internet Computer Protocol (ICP) – told TechHQ.

Kinic won the Blue Sky category of the Supernova Internet Computer Global Hackathon, which put the blockchain-based search engine project in the sights of VC heavyweight A16Z as well as other partners associated with the event. And some of the clever features of the Web3 search tool include zero-knowledge machine learning (ZKML).

For example, zero-knowledge technologies give users the ability to prove that they know something without revealing that information, which is useful for building trust without putting sensitive data at risk. The idea for Kinic came about after Benno and his collaborator Houman Shadab had created ICME – a no-code Web3 tool for creating websites and apps that run on blockchain (specifically, the ICP).

Having launched ICME, Benno and Shadab received feedback from users that while it was now much more straightforward to build Web3 projects on ICP, this content – for example, if authors had built a blog – wasn’t easily discoverable. Hence the inspiration for Kinic – their blockchain-based search engine.

To picture a website built on ICP, imagine a smart contract (or ‘Frontend Container’ in ICP speak) that contains the site’s HTML and CSS code. The URL could be the canister ID and potentially flag whether any changes had been made to the site.

Benno has a long list of ways that Web3 architecture can benefit app owners and users. Digital ledgers can validate that content belongs to a particular website – for example, to help readers determine whether news articles are genuine or have been cut and pasted from elsewhere. And the decentralized architecture makes legitimate information harder for authorities to suppress.

Picking up on the theme of decentralized computing – noting a recent story on TechHQ – he points out that it would be possible for GPU hosts to prove to customers that data has been processed as instructed. And this leads the discussion onto arguably one of the biggest ways that blockchain-based search engines could beat Google.

Selling your search skills

“Users could make their own machine learning search models and sell them,” Benno comments. “Owners could set the price and keep the weights hidden.” Today, major search engine providers benefit greatly from user data. But in the future, those treasure troves of search queries – for example, if used to fine-tune machine learning models – could generate paydays for users rather than big tech.

Benno has had interest from VC firms wanting to know which topics are trending on Web3 search to give them a head start in discovering early-stage, high-growth opportunities. And API access to URL click counters could be one way to monetize Kinic, while staying true to its principles of not saving or sharing any personal information.

Big companies are looking at Web3 opportunities with interest – for example, Starbucks is testing the idea of a digital rewards program using NFTs. And with smartphones capable of running efficiently fine-tuned generative AI models, as well as the emergence of cheap-to-produce LLM updates, it’s an interesting time in search land and its related technologies.