Apple pushes to decentralize search engines in Safari

Safari 8 auto-discovers and installs search providers for the websites their users visits. This new feature, called Quick Website Search, is made in the spirit of Apple’s voice-assistant Siri for the iPhone. It tries to cut out intermediaries and give users the information they want directly from the Apple product and not from third-parties. Third-parties who also happen to also be Apple’s major competitors.

When users visit the front-page of a website in Safari 8 on Mac, that website is automatically installed as a search provider in the address field. For example, after visiting the Internet Movie Database’s — the user can search directly on the site from the browser’s address field at any time by typing in the domain name imdb followed by the search term.

The main search provider is still used by default even when specifying the keyword of an installed search provider. The installed provider is shown as the first entry in the address field’s drop-down. To switch to it, the user must press either click on it or press the arrow-down or tab key before pressing enter. The first-position in the address field drop-down has a huge impact on how users interact with their browser. Google Chrome has a feature similar to Quick Website Search, but there the top position is reserved for the default search provider (Google itself.)

I believe it’s likely that a future version of Safari will remove the extra steps required to use a non-default search provider. Apple is naturally cautious of websites hijacking the user’s searches maliciously. Unless someone manages to misuse the feature, Apple may remove the extra step and thus seriously disrupt the way people search for information.

On Safari Mobile 8, the user must perform a search using the site’s search form before the site is installed as a search provider. The presentation of the installed search provider is the same as in Safari for Mac: at the top of the address field.

This feature good for the open web and for websites. It has the potential to decentralize and wrench control of search away from the traditional monolithic search providers like Google and Bing. This could be the first serious destabilization of the search market since web browsers began including search fields by default more than a decade ago. Bringing back some control to the clients without the user having to make an effort to make it happen. A decentralized web is a more democratic and freer web.

Websites can benefit by providing a more integrated experience to their users. It also helps them drive direct traffic from their visitors’ searches. This in turns helps then to not be too dependent on the traffic stream from a third-party search provider. I believe it’s likely that websites who take advantage of this feature will see an increase in return visitors.

The new Quick Website Search feature is available in Safari 8 on Mac OS X 10.10 and Safari Mobile on iOS 8. A feature similar to this is also available in Google Chrome and some other Chromium-based browsers. In the Chromium variant, the user enters the domain name keyword and is then prompted to press Tab to switch search-provider.

To show my support for this positive development, I’ve written my own custom search-engine for this blog and offer it up for browsers to use. It may not be as intelligent as Google or Bing, but it should let you find anything on this site.