Looking yesterday at some student application forms, we were bemused by the phraseology and grammatical constructions of one or two of the ‘personal statements’. These were from candidates who were (supposedly) native English speakers, applying for a subject at a top university in which clear and effective use of English will be a key skill.
For a moment, I wondered whether they had got ChatGPT or some other system to write it for them. And then I realised…
No, it couldn’t be from ChatGPT, because ChatGPT would have done a much better job.
I think this is significant.
It’s like the time several years ago when I realised I had just bought a second, electronic, copy of a big, bulky paper book that I already owned, because the Kindle reading experience would be vastly superior to the paper one: something I never would have imagined a few years before.
I’ve been doing an experiment which I fear will end up costing me money. And this is in response to the observation that so much of the online world we see is filtered through Google. I have nothing against Google, but this means that the starting point for most online exploration is filtered through Google’s business model.
Suppose I viewed the world through somebody else’s business model instead?
Building a search engine is hard. Building one that can come close to competing with Google is really hard.
For a while, on some of my machines, I’ve been using the popular DuckDuckGo, and it’s been pretty good. (The only way to try these things properly, I think, is to set them as your default search engine and then see how often you find them falling short.) The name was a mystery to me, never having heard of the children’s game ‘Duck, duck, goose’ before, but the business model and the appeal is simple: they do run ads, but not as many; they do much less tracking, the ads aren’t targeted, and they help block other companies from tracking you as well. It has many devotees.
But this weekend, I came across something better: Kagi. No ads. No tracking. Nice and fast. Elegant layout, and lots of customisation options. And, having used it as the default on my desktop, laptop and iPad for a few days, very good results! But of course, there’s no such thing as a free search, so the catch here is that you have to pay. For most people, the $5/month plan, which gets you 300 searches per month, will be sufficient, but there are lots of variations. I think the Duo family plan, which gives two people unlimited searches for (effectively) £10/month, sounds appealing.
So, would I pay £120/year (or £42/year, for the individual basic plan purchased annually) for something which I could get for free? Well, their free trial, which got me 100 free searches, has made me think that I probably would. Search is such a key part of day-to-day life, that this seems a modest premium to get a better version where you don’t have to start by scrolling past the sponsored links.
Here’s a short video showing a few of the extra bits you get for your money: