About Marginalia Search

Posted: 2022-12-23

Ever feel like the Internet has gotten a bit… I don’t know, samey? There’s funny images scrolling by and you blow some air through your nose and keep scrolling and then someone has done something upsetting and you write an angry comment and then you scroll some more.

Remember when you used to explore the Internet, when you used to discover cool little websites made by people and it wasn’t just a bunch of low effort content mill listicles and blog spam?

I want to show you that the Internet you used to go exploring is still very much there. There are still tons of small personal websites, and a wealth of long form text from both the past and the present.

So it’s a search engine. It’s perhaps not the greatest at finding what you already knew was there. Instead it is designed to help you find some things you didn’t even know you were looking for.

If you are looking for facts you can trust, this is almost certainly the wrong tool. If you are looking for serendipity, you’re on the right track. When was the last time you just stumbled onto something interesting, by the way?

I don’t expect this will be the next “big” search engine. This is and will remain a niche tool for a niche audience.

Warning: Experimental software!

This is an experimental toy, and you should expect downtime, data losses, bugs, jank of every flavor. I sadly don’t have enough hardware to keep a back-up system running when I take down the server to make alterations. I try not to do this too frivolously, but expect a few minutes of downtime every now and then.

A Theoretical Justification

In recent years, something has been simmering: Some call it the “Small Internet”. I hesitate to call it a movement, that would imply a level of organization and intent that it does not possess. It’s a disjointed group of like-minded people that recognize that the Internet has lost a certain je ne sais quoi, it has turned from a wild and creative space, into more of shopping mall. Where ever you go, you’re prodded to subscribe to newsletters, to like and comment, to buy stuff.

The formulation of the problem differs from purely aesthetic ones, to ones based on political doctrine. I prefer a humanist explanation. The measure of a website should be how well it enriches the life of – and empowers the visitor, rather how well it enriches the wallet of the website owner, especially not at the expense of the visitor’s long-term interests.

Some would vilify search engines and commercial interests for transforming the Internet in such a way, but that is not a particularly productive thing to dwell upon. Even if that is so, that’s just all the more opportunity to build something that’s better.

The search engine uses various heuristics to prefer text-heavy websites, and puts an upper limit on heavy modern web design inventions.

This is in a sense the opposite of what most major search engines do, they favor modern websites over old-looking ones. Most links you find here will be nearly impossible to find on a regular search engine, as they aren’t sufficiently search engine optimized.

This may seem a choice from some sort of nostalgia, which in part is true, but there is more to it. The hypothesis is something akin to the Lindy-effect: If a webpage has been around for a long time, then odds are it has fundamental redeeming quality that has motivated keeping it around all for that time. Looking at design elements is one way of determining the approximate age of a webpage, and thus predict its usefulness.

The purpose of the tool is primarily to help you find and navigate the non-commercial parts of the internet. Where, for sure, you’ll find crack-pots, communists, libertarians, anarchists, strange religious cults, snake oil peddlers, really strong opinions. Yes all manner of strange people.

You’ll surely find uncomfortable ideas too, and voices from the past that stubbornly refuse to adapt to the present, but I’m sure you’ll survive and find the experience worthwhile, because for every turd you step in, there are also plenty of brilliant and interesting gems to find that for one reason or another didn’t live up to the standards of the big search engines.

That said if you do find something genuinely in bad taste, do report it! Use the built-in domain reporting facility, or send me an email at kontakt@marginalia.nu! This entire search engine is operated by a single person, so it really does help keep the results clean. The search engine indexes hundreds of millions of documents, it’s genuinely hard to maually vet them all.

There’s also a point to be made about how the technologies we use shape our view of the world. I’m hoping, by holding up this kaleidoscope to the Internet, you’ll become more aware of the spectacles you were already wearing without thinking about them. It really does seem like a different reality.

If this were the looking glass through which you viewed the the Internet, and I’m not making a serious suggestion that it should be, but if it were, then wouldn’t you agree that your idea of the web would by seem be very different, more human?

Further Reading

Similar Projects

Competition is perhaps not the word, we’re all pulling in the same direction, only with subtly different goals and approaches.

Have something to say?

Send me an e-mail at kontakt@marginalia.nu.

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