Google’s search results have become cluttered. If you open the world’s most–used search engine and look up “sofa for small flat,” you’ll be met with a handful of ads showing elaborate corner suites, followed by some common questions people ask (“what is a very small sofa called?”). A few scrolls down the page, you’ll reach the actual search results. There’ll be some variation based on where you are in the world, your search history, and other factors, but you’re largely getting the same kind of results as everyone else.
Now privacy-focused web browser and search engine Brave is trying to open up the opaque, SEO-driven world of algorithmically curated search results. Starting today, Brave is moving its search engine out of beta and trialing a new tool that allows you to customize your search results. Dubbed Goggles, these tools allow you to rerank the web pages that appear at the top of your search results by applying a series of filters to them.
For instance, a Goggle (not to be confused with Google) can strip Pinterest pages from your search results; it can show only results from tech blogs or boost articles from either left- or right-leaning political news sources. Essentially, it puts you in charge of the search results you see. The move is the first for a search engine. “Goggles represents a fundamental push toward algorithmic transparency and openness in search,” says Josep M. Pujol, Brave’s chief of search. However, it also raises questions about the impact filter bubbles have search results.
How search engines work exactly is a closely guarded secret, ostensibly to prevent website operators from gaming the system. Broadly, search engines use web crawlers that scan and index pages across the web and then rank them based on potentially hundreds of different factors. Those that score highly are shown at the top of search results.
“The ranking that takes place is both proprietary and invisible,” says Belinda Barnet, a senior media lecturer at Swinburne University, Australia. Brave’s Goggles do not open up its own search algorithms or make its search index transparent, but it does give people more power over how they search. “Goggles would be a little intervention of sorts, a way of making the invisible visible, for Brave users in particular,” Barnet says.
Goggles sit alongside Brave’s general search option, Pujol says, and are not meant to replace general search entirely. However, the overall idea behind Goggles is easy to grasp. Tap in a search query and a Goggles tab will sit next to image, video, and news results. It works by applying a series of filters and rules to the search results that are shown. If you use Goggles to exclude results from the top 1,000 most visited sites on the web, for example, any URLs from these websites won’t show up in the search results.