A week of not using a search engine

A week or so ago, I wondered if I actually needed to use a search engine as much as I did. Why was I sending so much traffic to a third party service, especially since I can’t seem to find a search engine which aligns with my ethics and delivers good search results?

So I stopped.

And I fared better than I had thought.

Realistically, I’m not going to avoid search engines forever, and I’m still tempted to run my own (limited) search engine, but I certainly don’t need to search that much.

Lazy searching

It turns out that, on the whole, I visit very few sites.

The vast majority of my browsing is limited to a handful of sites that I already know.

I might want to search within those sites (and they all have a search facility), but I don’t need search to discover them.

Frankly, I was lazy. It was easier to type “Investigatory Powers Act 2016” or whatever into my browser’s bar, and then click the link from the search results into legislation.gov.uk, than it is to go to legislation.gov.uk and then search there.

I’ve stopped doing that.

Making search a specific act

I’ve changed the configuration of my browser - Firefox - to separate the URL bar from the search bar. For years now, I’ve had the same - either I type a URL, or else there is an automatic search (using the engine of my choice) for the terms I type.

To make me think more about what I am doing, and to make search a specific act on my part, I’ve separated them (in the Firefox settings/search menu). Now, I have a separate URL bar, and a specific search box.

So I can still search, but I need to think about it, which will hopefully be a useful nudge.

Update: nope, even with a separate search bar, it looks like I can still search from the main URL bar. Strange!

Back to bookmarks

In avoiding search, I’ve “re-discovered” bookmarks.

I haven’t used them for years, but if I’m going to go directly to sites that I already know, bookmarking them makes sense.

I can just store bookmarks in my browser, of course, but I’d prefer something that syncs, so I can access them, and add to them, on different devices.

I’d like to run an instance of Firefox sync, with the associated accounts server, but that looks restrictively difficult still (the accounts bit; the sync server itself seems easy enough). So, for now, I’m using Nextcloud.

To incorporate Nextcloud-hosted bookmarks into Firefox, I’m using the floccus Firefox add-on (Github). It syncs with Nextcloud, and means that I can easily add and remove bookmarks from within Firefox. Sadly, floccus is not (currently) available for Firefox for Android.

It also means that I can select from my bookmarks within the Firefox URL bar, by using * before I type the URL/site I want.

Update: I had some very useful feedback from Olivier, which I will explore when I get some time:

You can add search keywords to specific bookmarks, with a %s in the URL as the placeholder of your search term. This way you can directly hit the target site’s search function from the comfort of your awesome bar. Firefox stores that as a bookmark that can be synced.

Plus, an Android floccus client.

Search for actual discovery

I’m realistic that I can’t avoid search entirely.

I’m sure there will come a time - probably soon - when I will need to discover a new site, rather than relying on one of my bookmarked sites.

For that, I’ll use DDG.

But I don’t need to do it as often as I did.

Running my own search server

I was tempted to run some kind of local search system, which would crawl and index the sites I want it to cover.

But since most sites I use have their own search system, and I can search there, it seems like doing my own crawling would create an unnecessary load on each site’s server, for no particularly good reason.

It’s not just me!

Curiously enough, Veronica, whose tech skills and presentation style I admire massively, seems to be doing almost exactly the same, with a very similar outcome.

(Update: it seems that their fedi setup does not allow unauthenticated access - you’ll need to access this link within your fedi client.)