Kagi - a new search engine that’s worth paying for

For a while now, I’ve not been using Google, or DuckDuckGo, or Brave Search. Obviously I’ve never used Bing, I’m not crazy.

Instead, I’ve been using Kagi, a search engine that is fast, doesn’t have any ads, and… you pay for.

I used to use Google for everything. Being in Australia, Google is relatively ad-free, and it’s relatively good at most things. But the data dump on what Google knows about me gave me pause, as I looked through the data and discovered all 32,378 times I’ve used Google Assistant - with audio clips - or the 236,788 web pages I’ve visited in the past twelve months. And, of course, the 126MB of data listing the 121,078 web searches I’ve made on Google itself.

I also started to read some of the (many) court cases against Google, and some of the information that came out of those: especially how Google’s search engine algorithm has been tainted by advertising, as it changes search queries to return highly-paying adverts (a story in WIRED that has since been removed for some reason).

Whether that particular story is true, Google’s search quality appears to have been decreasing recently. The final straw was Google replacing the standard tabs at the top of the page (“News”, “Images”, “Maps”) with randomly-generated words related to my current search. I was curious to see what else there was.

Step forward Kagi. (It’s pronounced Kah-gee, by the way.)

Kagi

Kagi is an interesting product. It appears to be a blend of (anonymous) searches in Google, Brave, Yandex and others, merged with specialised search engines where required, and a few additional proprietary searches that Kagi does for itself. For example, a search for the word “podcast” says, right at the top of the page, 34% unique Kagi results. You can block individual domains from ever appearing in your search; and it has one-click access to the internet archive.

It also has tabs at the top for video, images, news and maps - and an extra one, “podcasts”.

When I first used Kagi, the podcasts search was a thinly disguised Apple Podcasts search, and it was fine, but nothing particularly exciting. It listed episodes, but a click on an episode took you to the Apple Podcasts page for the podcast itself, rather than the episode page.

Kagi has a customer suggestion forum, though, and I posted a few potential data sources there about podcasts. I wasn’t quite expecting anyone to read it - normally with these things nobody does, or someone pops up out of the woodwork to tell you how wrong you are in wanting this stuff anyway - but to my surprise the CEO of the company responded, said it was a good idea, and marked it as a desired feature; and within a few months, the podcast search had been entirely redesigned - now it links to the podcast’s website and episode pages, rather than a not-very-useful link to Apple Podcasts. Good job.

Perhaps that highlights the difference with Kagi as a product. They appear to be working on it and iterating it pretty quickly. And it shows.

Kagi also has “lenses”: a filter for search results based on what you’re looking for. As an example you can choose a “programming” lens, where the top result for “podcast” is pointing at Apple’s developer docs for embedding the Apple Podcasts player, followed by a few results on Github - including some actual code. Or, you can choose a “small web” lens, which ignores big websites and focuses on independent content. Pleasingly, Podnews is on that front page. (Mind, it’s on the front page for a normal web search for “podcast” as well).

Since I started using Kagi, they’ve also added servers in Australia, which made it significantly faster. If you care, a typical page on Kagi is more than a third of the size of Google’s search results. The changelog appears to show big new features every fortnight or so.

There is a few other things that it has - its answer to Bard, called FastGPT (which is quite good at giving sources for its information); a summarizer, which is pretty impressive at distilling a web page down to its bare minimum; and a slightly strange thing called Small Web (which looks to be free for everyone), which reminds me of a tool called StumbleUpon - it takes you to a set of little blogs and pages, which I have just discovered that I’m on.

Kagi appears to be owned by an American called Vladimir Prelovac, who bootsrapped the entire thing from 2018 to 2023. It’s now raised $670,000. The “boostrapped” isn’t entirely accurate - Prelovac had sold a company, and with those funds, Kagi had about ten people on the payroll. He seems to have sold a website management company, ManageWP, to GoDaddy.

The live stats page seems to show there are currently 19,416 people using it. Assuming each is paying an average of $5 each, that’s almost $100,000 a month in revenue - so it’s unlikely to be profitable quite yet.

Using Kagi

You have to think a little about how to use it: predominantly, because you quickly discover that Google is baked-in to your phone and your computer.

For both iOS and Android, the best bet (in my opinion) is to simply… get Firefox. Firefox lets you change your default search engine quite happily away from Google to Kagi; while it may be less easy in the stock browser. (The makers of Kagi make a bare-bones iOS browser called Orion. I’d skip that.)

Particularly - and unsurprisingly - Android is quite hard: you can switch to Kagi as a default search engine in the browser, but you can’t switch it to a default search engine on the Pixel Launcher, which has a big Google search bar that’s impossible to get rid of. The trick here is to use Nova as a replacement launcher: the free version allows you to set your launcher’s search bar to point to Kagi if you want it to, and you can otherwise get it to work very similarly to your Pixel launcher does.

Of course, if you’re going to switch browser anyway, you might - especially on Android - have to also find a decent password manager. Storing passwords in your web browser seems quite a clever way of locking you into a browser, if you ask me, so no wonder that they all do it. I’ve used Bitwarden for some time.

I’m not de-Googled quite yet

I’m not de-Googled, and doubt I’ll ever be. Gmail is a fantastic product, especially when using Mimestream on the Mac. I’m fine with it.

Google Photos is a market-leading product for good reason. For that reason, the bulk of my day-to-day online storage is in Google Drive.

But - switching away from Chrome and the Google search engine, on all my devices, has been relatively painless. Kagi is one reason why. There’s a limited free trial which I’d recommend you take, if only because it’s worth a try; and Kagi starts at $5 a month. Up to you if you think it’s worth it; but as a company purchase, I think it is.