Brave Search

A coupe of years ago, I had a realization that, as a privacy-focused individual, Google was an absolutely terrible company. As a company that owns an advertising business, they’re heavily incentivized to be as invasive as possible in order to serve targeted advertising. I embarked on a quest to cut all Google services out of my web usage. Some were easy (Gmail has easily one of the worst interfaces possible, and that’s only become worse over time) while others were significantly more difficult (Google Maps continues to absolutely slay the competition.)

One of the changes I made was staying away from Google search. As a result, I made DuckDuckGo my default search engine in every browser that I use. I’ve operated this way for several years. Then just a few days ago I got an exciting email:

To be completely honest, I forgot about signing up for this entirely. Back in March, Brave — the makers of the privacy-centric browser — acquired the search engine “Tailcat” with the goal of developing their own privacy-focused search engine. I signed up for the preview as soon as I saw it floating around Twitter and then immediately forgot about it. Fast forward 3 months, and they were ready for people to start testing it. The email contained a link with a special GUID that was leveraged to determine if I was really “in” the preview. I avoided commenting on anything related to it until now since I first had to go through a screen asking me to avoid posting screenshots on blogs or social media until things were a bit more mature. I could certainly respect that desire, though Brave Search opening up to the masses just a few days later makes me think it was a little on the paranoid side. Regardless, with the product open to everyone I figured it was a good time to share some thoughts.

The Front

On the surface, the Brave Search looks like a lot of other search engines. It’s fairly streamlined, putting the content front and center. A few minutes digging through the settings was well worth it considering that I quickly discovered I could — mercifully — switch to a dark theme.

As someone who has almost exclusively used DuckDuckGo for a few years, the results look familiar from a presentation perspective. The main portion of the screen features the search results with a preview of the content. Much like DuckDuckGo, Brave will also aggregate together a summary on the topic and any relevant, popular links on the right side of the screen. If you search for a musician, for example, you’ll likely get their website as the first hit. To the right side will be a summary blurb about the artist (typically sourced from Wikipedia), along with links to their social media. This is a handy feature that I’ve appreciated in DuckDuckGo for a long time. At first glance, though, Brave Search has been a little bit better about capturing all of the relevant links to the right, particularly for things like Instagram and SoundCloud.

Links aren’t the only things you’ll get back as some searches will provide the information you want directly. Search for the weather in a particular zip code, for example, or the price of Ethereum, and you’ll see the relevant information displayed immediately.

Brave Search will even provide small web apps when applicable, though not with the same robustness at the moment as DuckDuckGo. Searching for “calculator” will provide an HTML calculator, for example, but searching for “2048” won’t provide the eponymous game.

The Back

So far the search results from Brave Search have been relatively solid. I end up doing a lot of searches throughout the day for work, and thus far I haven’t had to bail on Brave Search for another option because I couldn’t find what I was looking for. That being said, with DuckDuckGo that type of situation would only occur maybe once a month or so, meaning that it wasn’t exactly common previously.

An obvious question one is likely to have would be: what is the big difference between Brave Search and DuckDuckGo? Both are marketing themselves as privacy-centric search engines that don’t track users. At the moment, there are a couple of key differences.

One of the big claims Brave is making is that they rely entirely upon their own search index, meaning that they don’t leverage anything else that could sway their results. On the other hand, while DuckDuckGo also has its own crawler, its index is generated from many different sources:

DuckDuckGo’s results are a compilation of “over 400” sources, including Yahoo! Search BOSS, Wolfram Alpha, Bing, Yandex, its own web crawler (the DuckDuckBot) and others.

If the source of the search query is hidden behind DuckDuckGo, do you care that your search results were supplied by Bing or Yandex? Under those circumstances, after all, the company can’t profile you. I think how much that matters is up to each individual to decide.

At the moment, Brave Search also features no advertising. Brave obviously isn’t running an entire search engine for its health, so advertising will be coming after the current “beta” phase is finished. Just like DuckDuckGo, their pledge is to avoid tracking and targeted advertising. DuckDuckGo’s founder has shed great light on how targeted advertising is not a requirement for a profitable search engine, and I imagine that Brave Search aspires to follow in those footsteps. Once advertising goes live on Brave Search, the company also plans to offer a paid version of the service which is ad-free. This seems a bit wild to me; as someone who spends at least an hour a day digging through search engine results, I still couldn’t imagine subscribing to a search engine. As a result, I’ll be curious to see how intrusive and obnoxious Brave Search ads end up being. I’ll also be curious on any numbers for how many people subscribe since I just can’t see that model taking off in 2021.

The Other

Competition in the search space is good, and I’m excited to see a new player. I ended up configuring the Brave installation on my work laptop to use Brave Search as the default, though all of my personal devices are still set to use DuckDuckGo, and I don’t see myself changing them any time soon. I think it’ll be interesting to follow Brave Search and see how it matures as a product. If you already love DuckDuckGo are you going to see a compelling reason to change? I would say that it’s unlikely. Similarly, if you hate Brave as a whole due to Brendan Eich, is Brave Search going to change your opinion? 100% no. However, if you’re a privacy-conscious person who just never found DuckDuckGo to be quite sticky enough, I think Brave Search is a great option, and it’s worth spending a little time to see if it does the trick for you.