Some thoughts on Kagi search

Kagi, unrelated to the prior (and now defunct) shareware payment provider of the same name and domain, is a new search engine that has received a bit of attention over the past few weeks.

The company promises to respect the user’s privacy while still delivering a set of compelling features and high-quality, relevant, user-tunable search results. This sounds awesome, especially since other sites like Brave, DuckDuckGo, Ecosia and Startpage had their share of negative press over the last few years. SearX is a nice idea – but often does not deliver relevant results. So one could say the market is ripe for a new competitor.

Kagi offers two tiers of service: A free tier limited to 50 search queries per month and a paid 10$/month tier for unlimited queries.

The company is US-based but seemingly employs an international team of people worldwide via remote work.

Kagi’s landing page after logging in

The Good

First off, Kagi ticks all the right boxes for me. It integrates relevant additional data as well as quick access to archived copies of a site on archive.org. This does not sound like much of a feature, but I do a lot of research and this saves me some clicks.

The ability to rate the relevance of certain domains is also absolutely stellar.

As for the quality of the search results, I have no complaints. The ability to use specific “lenses” to skew results to a certain set (i.e. programming related or PDFs) is great.

The Bad

There is no way to sugarcoat this: 10$/month for a search engine is too much of an ask. I’d happily pay 5$/month for a service like this.

However, even that would not work because Kagi uses Stripe and only accepts credit cards. No Google Pay, no Paypal, no nothing – only credit cards. This is a typical issue with US-based services that do not realize credit cards are not the primary payment method in the rest of the world.

Kagi states on Hackernews that they anticipate a low search volume for their regular users (citation/link missing). I heavily disagree here. When I am using a search engine, I do not send one query. I usually do some research by using one term, run some variations on that term and new search queries based on the information I have learned from previous results.

I use my search engine of choice more than 1.7 times a day, so the free tier of Kagi would be unusable for me. And if I cannot use the search engine, there is no way I will fully commit to switching to it.

Unfortunately, the long-term sustainability and growth of the service are murky topics and something that warrants further analysis in 2-3 years – assuming we will get any kind of published data from Kagi. Will the company be able to convert enough users into customers to be sustainable and/or profitable?

The company is US-based. For many, this might seem like a great selling point, however from a privacy perspective the US are a terrible haven. The fact that government can order the silent exfiltration of data via gag orders is worrisome. Kagi assures us they do not log or collect data – but the same was also true for many VPN providers that were logging in the past decade and handed over data to the feds. An independent audit of the infrastructure, configuration and software – similar to how Mullvad operates – would go a long way to verify the claims and build trust.

Lastly, Kagi has a worrying amount of products in the pipeline. Their Orion browser is in beta and they have already announced an e-mail service on their FAQ. On the one hand, it is a good strategy to branch out and offer many different products in various categories. On the other hand, you might be spreading yourself a little thin here, Kagi.

The Bottom Line

Despite me sounding pretty negative, I do like what Kagi offers. However, the price and available payment methods (and I am not alone in this) are a big turn-off right now. A price of 10$/month is just too high for me when Newsblur takes 36$/year (which comes down to 3$/month). If Kagi magically manages to knock the price down to 5-6$/month I’d immediately subscribe.

The free tier is virtually useless for me and acts as a nice gimmick to show off how Kagi works, what features are present and what kind of results you can expect.

Ironically, this is similar to the methods employed by the shareware processor Kagi (fully functional but limited to x uses). We will see if Kagi search will last as long as the company whose name and domain it is using – or whether the party will come to a sobering end much earlier.

And even if this bitter end should come to pass, I think that having a service like Kagi is important. It shows that an increasing number of users are growing sick of being the product. And Kagi might be able to more easily innovate/refine in a similar fashion as XenForo managed to one-up vBulletin back in the day.

If you want a simple, quotable takeaway from this post, then here you go: While I currently would not pay for Kagi, I highly recommend you try it out yourself. It is an elegant search engine that did not fail me on my queries yet.

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Tsukasa

The fool's herald.

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