1:15pm // 4.13.2024

Kagi was founded in 2018 with the mission to "humanize the web." It's main product to accomplish this mission is their paid search engine, Kagi.com. At the entry price of $5 a month for 300 searches/month or $10 a month for unlimited searches, it's reasonable to ask "is it worth it?" My own answer to that question is a resounding yes, but I will get into some specifics on why I think that here.

The sorry state of web search

Over the past few years, most people have felt a clear decline in the quality of virtually all search engines. Even beyond the ad-filled, manipulated indexing behind something like Google, services like Brave search and DuckDuckGo frequently serve up useless pages of links that seem to have nothing to do with your initial query. One can only scroll through so many pages of Indian AI-written tutorials before he questions his sanity! And this shouldn't be surprising, as the business model for search engines has traditionally been to sell ad-space and user data. After all, "data is the new oil" and you have plenty of people willing to pay top dollar for highly targeted ads or access to the search histories of millions of people. Kagi did their own back-of-the-envelope analysis and determined that ad-based search engines "make almost $300 a year off their users"! If something is free, then you're the product.

For me, the decline in the quality of searches has been the biggest pain point. I've tried DuckDuckGo, Brave Search, and even Yandex - none of them remain on par with Google, which is usually useless itself anyway. Encouraged by Kagi's excellent Small Web site (https://kagi.com/smallweb/) which serves up a random small website or blog usually run by one person, I decided to look further into their own search services. With a free tier that offers 100 searches a month, it's not like it was much of a risk. And, needless to say, I was very impressed with what they had to offer!

Kagi's core features

The main sell of Kagi is that they don't push ads, have no search telemetry, are highly customizable, and are very focused on speed, low latency, and quality. They know they will never challenge Google, but want to offer an alternative for people who are privacy conscious, want a better experience, and are willing to pay for it. It's the equivalent of shopping at a boutique store instead of a Walmart. Sure, it might have its own niggles and come with a premium, but you'll probably enjoy shopping there more. At least, you'll feel like you're something more than another data point.

On top of their core competencies, Kagi has a wide suite of supplementary features like Lenses, which allow you to specifcy the kinds of websites you see in results, superior personalization, enabling you to block or raise/lower the ranking of a website in your results, and bangs, which are shortcuts that take you to specific search results on other sites. If you don't care about a site, you'll never have to see it again! There are plenty of other features that I won't go into detail about, like the quick action menu, site info tab, FastGPT, Universal Summarizer, and more that come with your subscription. I use lenses on a daily basis, enabling me to quickly filter results across a number of different factors. If I just want PDFs, I turn on the PDF lense. If I want results with more features from noncommercial sites, then I turn on the Small Web one. If I'm looking up programming questions, I turn on the Programming lense. It's easy, and incredibly helpful. And you can even create your own!

Search quality on Kagi

Across the board, Kagi has much higher quality search results than any other service I've tried. Kagi functions by making API calls to traditional search engines while also leveraging their own index. In theory, this means that you get the best results possible. It's also significantly faster, both according to their own numbers and to my own, anecdotal experience.

As far as I can tell, they do not censor or manipulate search results either (beyond ensuring you get relevant results). My test for this is to look up some horrifically racist site from a persona non grata. Keep in mind that this does not mean I endorse these sites... but if you look up "The Daily Stormer" or "Radical Agenda" on Google, you will not get the actual site. On Kagi, it's one of the top results in both cases. You'll get them on a service like Yandex too, but that's where the rest of what you get with Kagi comes in.

Who is it for?

If you care about your privacy, want to encourage and support alternative services, want to get off of the Google plantation, and just want to stop feeling like you're the product, then you should pay for your search engine. Most people will not care about any of these factors at all and will be content to use Google or any of the other competing platforms. But for the discerning internet user, services like Kagi are a Godsend. It just works, and damn well at that. Cut the crap out of your life and at least give the free tier a try. You won't regret it!

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