UPDATED! Ad-Free, Privacy-Oriented Search Engine Alternatives to Google Search: I Take a Look at Kagi, Neeva, You.com, and Mojeek

Photo by Marten Newhall from Unsplash

HOUSEKEEPING NOTICE: There has been a lot of chatter about artificial intelligence (AI) this year. If metaverse was the buzzword of 2022, AI is definitely the buzzword of 2023! I have been marshalling my thoughts, doing research, and beavering away on an editorial blogpost about AI for quite some time, and I hope to publish it as my next post on this blog.

And I do apologize to those of you who wish I would get back to writing more about social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse! I have been quite busy with various projects at my paying job as an academic librarian, and when I get home, I am often too tired to blog. But I promise that I will soon return you to your regularly scheduled programming… 😉

On Wednesday evening, I was test-driving a new web browser I had downloaded on a whim from the Apple Apps Store, called Orion. For years now, I had automatically selected Google as my default search engine while using Chrome and Firefox, but I noticed that there were two ad-free search engine options in Orion’s setup, which I had never heard of before: Kagi (created by the same company that makes Orion), and something called Neeva.

Curious, I went down the rabbit hole, and did a few test searches on both Kagi and Neeva. I must confess that my search results from Kagi left me feeling meh, but I was so impressed with what I got back from the Neeva search engine, that I actually decided to pony up for a premium subscription! (Please note that you can use Neeva for free, but it limits the number of searches you can do in a month.)

One rather interesting feature of Neeva is that it includes an AI-generated “summary” of information on your search topic (something that both the Google and Bing search engines are also tinkering with). In Neeva’s case, the AI-generated summary paragraph includes numbered citations to the sources from which it pulled the information. For example, here’s what I got back after searching Neeva for the meaning of the phrase “pony up for” (a phrase which I used in the previous paragraph):

See the red arrow in the image above? You set up a personal account to use Neeva, and you can actually tell it which information sources you prefer, so that over time, it tailors your search results to your preferences (you can also select which sources you wish to see less of in your search results next time). Here’s a summary of Neeva’s other features.

This AI-generated summary is a beta feature, and frankly I was curious (and dubious) that it would work. Sometimes it works well, and sometimes it fails spectacularly! However, I do like the fact that you can actually click on the numbered citations below the AI-generated text to go to the source material, which this reference librarian always believes you should do! Remember, treat any AI-generated text with a good deal of skepticism and suspicion. Don’t trust; verify.

But I didn’t decide to subscribe to Neeva based on its AI, which I see as a frill (as I said up top, expect a longer, separate blogpost with my thoughts on the whole AI hoo-ha). I signed up for a premium membership because I wanted to kick the tires on an ad-free, privacy-oriented search replacement for Google Search, in much the same way that I recently opted for Proton as an ad-free, privacy-oriented alternative to Google Mail and Google Drive. I just finally decided, after leaving Meta’s Facebook and Instagram, and especially after Elon Musk’s dumpster-fire takeover of Twitter, that I had had enough of Big Tech’s strip-mining my personal data by using their “free” services (where, of course, you are the product they sell to advertisers).

So, as I often like to say, I am off on yet another adventure—wish me luck! I signed up for one year of unlimited Neeva searching, and I will be comparing search results between Google and Neeva throughout the next twelve months, and I’ll report back that I find.

If you want to learn more about Neeva, you can learn more from their website, which includes a FAQ. You can also learn more about the Kagi search engine and the Orion web browser, if you’re interested (which I how I landed up going down this rabbit-hole in the first place!).

UPDATE 11:45 a.m.: This morning I stumbled across yet another privacy-oriented, relatively ad–free search engine which incorporates AI, called You.com. I quickly perused their online FAQ and learned that they do have private ads which do not collect user data or invade user privacy. The free service actually doesn’t have any such ads at the moment, but they are looking at monetization schemes in future.

After so many years of Google’s hegemony in online search, things are starting to get interesting! I will also give You.com a whirl, and I’ll tell you what I think of it.

UPDATE 1:44 p.m.: Found another one! Mojeek is a search engine which does accept advertising, but according to its short-but-sweet privacy policy, has a strict, no-tracking policy in place. Yet another rabbit hole to explore! 😉

What People Are Searching For When They Visit My Blog: A List of the Most Popular Search Terms Used by Visitors

Photo by Marten Newhall on Unsplash

Among the absolute bonanza of detailed statistics WordPress offers up on my blog, are a list of search terms which people are using when they stumble across one of my blogposts, as shown here in a screen capture of today’s stats:

So tonight (because it’s 8:30 p.m. and I am tired and cranky and it’s -25°C outside and I OBVIOUSLY have nothing better to do with my time), I have decided to share with you what people have been searching for when they visit the RyanSchultz.com blog over the past three and a half years. Think of it as a glimpse into the zeitgeist of my readers, or visitors, or whatever you like to call yourselves…so, let’s dive in, shall we?


Top of the list is a bit of a surprise to me: a search for “amazon”. Now, I have absolutely no idea why people searching for Amazon land up on my blog, but yes, they do! (Perhaps I should consider setting up a sales affiliate link of some kind.)

Next up is certainly zero surprise to me: people searching for “vrchat sex” and all its variations. This is not a surprise, since my perennially-popular blogpost about adult content in VRChat is now the top Google search result when you search on “vrchat adult”. (Now, if I could just get off my raggedy ass and add some targeted advertising to that particular blogpost, I could probably rake in a few more pennies…aah, but I disgress.) Search terms related to “vrchat sex” include:

  • “vrchat nsfw avatar worlds” (even though I don’t link to any!)
  • “vrchat nsfw”
  • “vr chat sex”
  • “adult vr chat”
  • “vrchat adult”
  • “nsfw vrchat”
  • “vrchat nude”
  • “vr chat nude”
  • “vr chat nudity”
  • “18+ vrchat worlds”
  • etc. etc. etc.

I mean, people, come on, already…do you really expect to find not-safe-for-work content in VRChat with a Google search?!??

Photo by Julio Tirado on Unsplash

Number three is also a bit of a surprise: “livcloser”. The last time I checked, LivCloser was a virtual world still very much in the alpha stage of development, if it still exists at all (here’s a link to all my blogposts about it), and I haven’t even visited it since April of 2018. It turns out that, in some cases, blogposts I wrote about some of the more obscure virtual worlds I have visited end up rather high in the results of Google, Bing, and other search engines; who knew?

Much like LivCloser, among the other little-known-about platforms which show up in the search terms people use to land up at my blog are:

  • InWorldz and its short-lived successor, Islandz (because I had written at length about the final, unexpected, dramatic shutdown of the OpenSim-based virtual world, and its attempts to resurrect itself);
  • 3DX Chat (an adult virtual world)
  • AviLife
  • Utherverse (another adult virtual world…seeing a trend here in what people are actively searching for? 😉 )
  • VIBEHub
  • Avakin Life
  • Twinity (THIS old chestnut? Really?!??)

Next up is something which I did very much expect to find: “second Life freebies”, as well as related search terms about my extensive and popular coverage of steals, deals, and freebies in Second Life. I note with no lack of amusement that one intrepid searcher actually entered “ryan schultz’s 2 blog posts packed with info on the free or cheap mesh bodies/heads” into a search engine no less than 17 times, with the exact same wording every time! (It’s a newgfangled browser feature called a BOOKMARK, sweetheart…look into it. 😉 and, if you are interested, you can always find my constantly-updated compilations of free mesh heads and bodies for Second Life avatars here: male and female.)

Among the rest of the (sometimes mystifying) more popular search terms people have used are:

  • “sars covid2” (perhaps not such a surprise)
  • “ninja suits”
  • “second life name change 2020” (again, not a surprise, as my step-by-step guide to changing your avatar name in SL is pretty popular)
  • “sansar user statistics”
  • “open world non combat games” (referring to this list, no doubt)
  • “genus project dmca” (about the whole Genus Project mesh heads DMCA saga)
  • “how to remove a default head in second life” 😉
  • “free second life female vagina” (a topic about which, I do hasten to assure you, I have written ABSOLUTELY NOTHING)
  • “10 reasons why you should quit social media”
  • “second life millionaires”
Ninja suits??? Really? REALLY?!??

I hope that you found this deep dive into my WordPress stats enlightening (or at least, entertaining)!

The Pros and Cons of AMP

As I progress towards the second anniversary of this blog, I’m learning new things about blogging all the time, like AMP, which I had never really paid much attention to before. AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages, and it is a project launched by Google in 2015. AMP uses simplified HTML (hypertext markup language, the “code” of your webpage) and streamlined CSS (cascading style sheet) rules to make Google search results display more quickly on mobile devices.

I discovered yesterday that, many times when I use Google on my iPhone to search for and pull up one of my blogposts, it is now formatted differently than before. It would appear that Google is now delivering the AMP version instead. And to be honest, I’m not quite sure whether or not I like this.

Here’s a side-by-side, before-and-after comparison. On the left is what my blogposts used to look like on my cellphone (it’s using exactly the same fonts and design as if you were reading them on a desktop machine). But now, most of my Google search results on mobile come up looking like the image on the right (the AMP format).

Notice that the web address of the image on the left (my regular blogpost style) says “ryanschultz.com”, while the web address of the image on the right (the AMP version) says “google.com”. Google is serving a cached version of my content.

Now, the good news is that these AMP blogposts are supposed to load faster for mobile users, but the bad news is that the AMP display strips out several user navigation details I had deliberately put in, such as the the “sandwich” menu in the upper right hand corner of the picture on the left, which led people to my blog’s search box and to other areas of my site. The AMP version also strips out the three related blogposts links that appear at the bottom of each of my blogpost pages. In other words, AMP is removing many of the ways that users could navigate within my blog, instead forcing them back out into Google. Google is basically using AMP to drive more traffic back to itself, rather than keeping people clicking around within my blog, and exploring. I hate that.

According to the Wikipedia article on AMP, many developers have criticized aspects of the service:

AMP has been widely criticized by many in the tech industry for being an attempt by Google to exert its dominance on the Web by dictating how websites are built and monetized, and that “AMP is Google’s attempt to lock publishers into its ecosystem”. AMP has also been linked to Google’s attempt to deprecate URLs so that users will not be able to immediately see whether they are viewing a webpage on the open Web or an AMP page that is hosted on Google’s servers.

Now, there’s nothing stopping the user of the AMP page to click on the chain link icon found in the upper right hand corner (it’s right next to “ryanschultz.com”, below “google.com” in the image to the rght) and use that link to see the page as I really want them to see it. But really, who is going to be bothered to take that extra step? Most people just take the info they need and run.

So now I have a difficult decision: turn off AMP completely on my blog and give everybody the same design experience, or leave AMP on and give up some more control to Google (which, I might add, drives a significant amount of traffic to my blog).

So, what do you think? Does it matter to you which version of the blogpost you see when you search Google? I’m willing to bet most people didn’t even know about AMP and could care less, as long as they find what they are looking for. So (for now), I am leaving AMP turned on.