The Internet

Boutique Search Engines

Bookmarked Re-Organizing the World’s Information: Why we need more Boutique… — Mirror (

For most queries, Google search is pretty underwhelming these days. Google is great at answering questions with an objective answer, like “# of billionaires in the world” or “What is the population of Iceland”. It’s pretty bad at answering questions that require judgment and context like “What do NFT collectors think about NFTs?”.

I hadn’t encountered the idea of boutique search engines before the past few weeks, then I heard about IndieWeb Search and my friend sent me another small site search engine, and I realized that there are small versions of them out there that I use, which could be awesome to aggregate.

What I find myself wanting a lot is a search engine for my music — I have lyrics stuck in my head, I can hear the song, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what song it is. Google and DuckDuckGo do pathetically at lyrics in my experience — useful if you listen to pop music but nothing more obscure. Sometimes you can get there if you keep subtracting the names of more popular artists. I have a known pool of music that I listen to — I scrobble everything on — so what I want is to search the lyrics of songs in my library. Another form of the personalized search engine we talked about a little during the session Angelo led at the Gardens and Streams discussion.

I can also see value in hyperlocal search. Local wikis have kinda filled that niche in the past — I remember Davis had a wiki that my friend who went to UC Davis was really into (warms my heart to see it appears to still be alive!). Back in 2008 I tried to start a zero waste food wiki for the Seattle area to collect info on where you could buy certain items in bulk, but gave up on it when a big name in the zero waste world announced she was making an app that would do the same thing. (I suspect a fair number of apps are essentially boutique search engines for their own limited data set, hadn’t thought about it that way before 🤔)

The pretty boutique listing / search I’ve used regularly is Atlas Obscura whenever I’m going on a trip, trying to find some eclectic and off the beaten path destinations and activities. Some places have a wide array of fun places to go, others not so much 🤷‍♀️

If I had a wishlist for boutique searches, I want a curated search of handmade and local artisans and craftspeople. Even not local only would still be great (though it’s sad when you find something amazing and realize it’s made in Australia and will cost $30 to ship). The “shopping” function of the big search engines is depressing. Now that Etsy allows people to resell shit from China it’s not a great way to find actually handmade things. Also, not to diss on Latvia but every other item on Etsy seems to be from there, and trying to shop more sustainably I don’t want to ship that many items from overseas. I use Etsy’s vintage search a fair bit for secondhand items, but now everything before like 2000 is considered vintage so there’s a lot of shit in there too. The closest thing I’ve found is Made Trade‘s marketplace for ethically-made goods, though I was not thrilled to order a bath mat and have it drop shipped from Egypt lol. I want a search engine that aggregates those different sources I have to go to individually now, so I can search Made Trade, Etsy vintage, Craigslist, artists’ collectives like Join Design, participants in craft shows like Urban Craft Uprising, local boutique businesses like Prism and Buy Olympia, and the listings of local salvage and consignment stores all at the same time without having to switch between them all and repeat the search or look manually. Individual businesses and craftspeople opting in to search would have to be vetted to make sure they weren’t just resellers of cheap manufactured junk, otherwise it would devolve into a crap Etsy again.

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

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