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Blockchain Tech and the Online Search Industry

Online search engines exert enormous influence over the way people consume digital content. They connect advertisers to consumers. They help determine which videos users view, songs they download and blogs they read. They shape people’s understanding of the world around them, for better or worse.

Could blockchain technology disrupt the ability of traditional search engines to influence the digital experience of consumers in these ways? Some startups hope so.

The Search Engine Business Model

The business model of search engines hinges on collecting data about users and transforming that data into revenue. Although all major search engines are free to use, the personal data that consumers reveal to search engine companies can be worth huge amounts of money.

Personal data allows search engines to target ads toward users. Most people think of Google as an internet search company, but in many respects it is really an advertising company. Searches provide Google’s main source of data collection about consumers (the company’s other services, like the Google+ social network and the Gmail email platform, help as well), but its primary revenue-generating activity centers on using that data to serve ads.

And Google, of course, is just the largest of several major search engine companies. Yahoo!, Bing and other search providers operate according to the same business model.

Critics contend that the existing search engine business model is unfair for consumers because search engine providers profit enormously off of the data that they collect from users and in return offer only search results. 

Some also complain that companies like Google, which controls about three-quarters of the internet search market, exert an undue influence over the digital content that users consume. By displaying particular sites at the top of search results lists, a search engine enjoys considerable control over which sites’ services reach the most consumers.

Disrupting the Search Industry

Despite these criticisms, the search engine industry has prospered unimpeded for about 20 years. Apart from regulatory challenges such as the European Union’s case against Google, there have been no serious challenges to the search engine business model.

Blockchain startups hope to change this. By decentralizing search information and making ranking data transparent, blockchain entrepreneurs seek to provide a search experience that protects the privacy of users while also ensuring that search result rankings are free of bias. 

Presearch is one such startup. Aiming to provide an “open, decentralized search engine,” the project plans to build a distributed system of nodes that will crawl the web, construct an index of online content and deliver search results based on it.

In addition to relying on a distributed, decentralized network of search nodes, Presearch plans to use tokens to reward users for contributing to the development of its platform in various ways. In this sense, the project itself is highly decentralized from an organizational standpoint, too. 

BitClave takes a somewhat different approach to disrupting the online search industry. Rather than building a decentralized search engine to replace the likes of Google, it aims instead to keep the money that users generate when they perform a search in the searchers’ own pockets. 

The platform will do this by allowing users, by their choice, to share search data with advertisers. In return, BitClave compensates users with digital currency payments.

In a sense, BitClave is similar to the Brave web browser, which blocks ads by default and rewards users for choosing to display them. Both platforms place decisions about the sharing of personal data in the hands of consumers and ensure that when users give up their data, they receive financial compensation in return.

It remains to be seen whether enough users are fed up with traditional search engines and the data they collect in exchange for search results of sometimes questionable partiality. Presearch and BitClave both remain under development. They have GitHub pages (which you can find here and here) but relatively little code to show so far.

Yet even if the ambitions of these blockchain startups currently loom larger than their implementations, it seems a fairly safe bet that they will help to change the way that millions of people consume digital content. The search industry is ripe for change, and blockchain technology may be the source of disruption it needs.

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