Seeks: P2P Search – Do we need it?

With Google, Bing, Yahoo and lots of smaller search engines scouring the internet for content and arranging it for us to see at the push of a button, do we really need to worry about internet search any longer and what’s more – does P2P search have a place in the future of the internet?

Emmanuel Benazera and Sylvio Drouin of the Seeks Project believe there is a need for the P2P community to re-claim the search function from the commercial giants. In their Seeks Manifesto they explain how commercial interests skew the results of our searches to favor large commercial concerns over user-generated content. But perhaps more importantly, they also explain how we are lured into giving up, one search at a time, our personal profile of interests and preferences to those commercial interests and how they end up “owning” their users as surely as they would own a valuable data base or some important physical infrastructure.

Seeks is a free and open P2P design and application for enabling social websearch. Specifically, Seeks is a pattern matching peer-to-peer overlay with the purpose of regrouping those users of existing search engines, whose queries are similar. It allows those users to share both the query results and their experience on these results. On this basis, Seeks will allow, in time, for true real-time, decentralized websearch to emerge.

Some excerpts from the manifesto:
(If you have a few minutes, check out the real thing)

    The Internet relies on an end-to-end architecture, where the power lies in the leaves of the network, such as web servers or user machines. Over the past decade, we observed the rise of two new major Internet topologies, each having contributed to bring the web sphere to its current state: first, the gateway-like topology where servers gather the network traffic and redistribute it to the leaves, namely the search engines; second, the bag-like topology where the traffic gets trapped within a single set of servers, namely the so-called social web-communities [social networks].

    Whenever we’re asking a question to somebody, whoever that person can be, there are good chances we are revealing something about ourselves in the process: our interests, our opinions, etc. It is how the chain of trust is established. This chain of trust should also exist when we’re querying a search engine or accessing our webmail, but in this case the interlocutor is not another human being but a set of sophisticated and confidential algorithms that will record, re-use and most probably distort all the information accumulated about us. We believe the Web has reached a point where the chain of trust has broken down.

    We believe that the web has been partly hijacked from the end users, and that there should be a serious attempt by the free software community to return it to the general population. We believe this should start with the web searching and publishing experiences.

    The Seeks project proposes to share the search queries among users, naturally building a collaborative social filter on top of the main search engines and their results. Today, the lack of social sharing leads to masses of users doing the same searches over and over again, all over the world, while remaining alone.

    Three steps for getting more out of the web and its content.

    First, Seeks provides basic collaborative functionalities on top of existing search engines by connecting people that search the web with similar queries.

    The second step, key to the Seeks project, introduces what we believe are its most beneficial features. Seeks will propose a self-publishing mechanism accessible to anybody with a browser and an Internet connection. Instead of relying on a search engine for linking keywords to web content through crawling and indexing, Seeks will let users register any URL using their own set of keywords (in other words, their own queries).

    The third and final step proposes a decentralized web information index to gradually re-capture public information currently stored in private corporate facilities.

Certainly an interesting approach to web search and very similar to the German YaCy project.

No implication here that YaCy is worse or better – it is simply a different approach to reach the same end – distributed search that relies on users to build a search data base by finding and indexing content through their searches.

Perhaps it is time to consider how we might escape from the purely commercial control that is consolidating its grip on the internet and, in the process, on our personal data.

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