Note: This article covers http and gemini.
Up to 2000, I used a variety of search engines: AskJeeves (later, Ask.com), HotBot, Lycos, Yahoo, and others whose names I can no longer recall. I vaguely remember using Archie on dial-up text browsing, but cannot remember much about it beyond that it was used for FTP searches, and later Veronica for searching Gopher sites.
I used Google regularly starting about 2000. It helped me the summer I was a fact checker for a weekly paper in Philadelphia. Over time I became more concerned with the surveillance aspects of Google products. When I learned about DuckDuckGo in 2010 or 2011 I started trying it out. For a few years, I jumped back and forth between search engines but by about 2013 or 2014 I started using DDG only.
With DuckDuckGo I appreciate the bangs most of all. I can type a word then !w and instantly pull up the wikipedia page, or an old tech object and !e and instantly it searches directly on Ebay. There are countless other examples. As DuckDuckGo has grown, I'm still mostly happy with it, but it does have more of the downsides of a major browser: some searches result mostly in product results rather than articles or info that I'm looking for.
To be honest, I don't see any ads on DuckDuckGo. I have a few extensions on Firefox, and I cannot remember 100% if it's uBlockOrigin (I think), but I don't have any ads.
On my iPad I installed ViolonCello, an app that is text-mode only. Unfortunately, the app maker has disappeared or not updated the app, so I don't see it available for download from the App store anymore (yet another mark against Apple). And I've not found another app that works as well or quickly, so I'm continuing to use it for now but it could disappear at some point when Apple next demands developers sign in to update and sign their apps (and pay for the privilege), so it feels like I'm just marking time on that one.
On Desktop, for the past year or two I've been trying a few other search engines out.
In addition to the regular DuckDuckGo, it's worth knowing about the Lite version:
Lite DuckDuckGo is pretty minimally styled. Simple and to the point.
FrogFind"The Search Engine for Vintage Computers." This search engine is actually powered by DuckDuckGo, but it filters its results through Readability or a similar filter, and stripping down the pages to simple HTML. What this means is that it's fast, doesn't need https, so it works on old computers and devices. It's also a good fit for a text online browser, as it strips out nav, sidebars, pictures, and the like.
The Wiby search engine claims to be 'building a web of pages as it was in the earlier days of the internet.' What this seems to translate to is that it doesn't operate a web crawler to index pages but instead the operator of wiby adds pages to visit, and users can submit pages as well. They've also open sourced their code so you can operate your own small search engine. In practice, this is a fun search client that does feel a bit like the late 90s search. You can find useful and fun and random sites pop up, loosely related to your topic. It features a 'surprise me' search that often delights me when I find interesting sites.
This is a "D.I.Y. search engine" for non-commercial content, "hosted on a single PC in Sweden." On the home page it mentions that it's best at finding small, old and obscure sites on specific niche topics. Also has a 'random page' mode. Viktor also has extensively written about ongoing development work, among many other topics, and has a presence on Gemini as well.
To be honest, I don't use this very often. It's powered by Bing. The main reason to use this is because they use their ad revenue to donate profits toward environmental causes (80% of their income). I made it the default search on my Chromium browser. Just an aside here: I learned from Grant Peterson of Rivendell bikes that if you own more than one bike, you should try to set each of them up pretty differently so they'll feel different when you ride them. Different handlebars, different saddles, pedals, etc. Most of the time I use Firefox, with DuckDuckGo. So the occasional times I open Chromium on my computer, the default search is Ecosia. Ecosia generates revenue when you click on ads. But I don't think I've ever clicked on one, so I guess that renders the point of using this search engine moot for me.
Internet Archive Wayback Machine
I use this all the time to find old websites and to backup sites. It's a great way to find older sites and materials.
This works pretty well. It's my preferred search engine on Gemini. I use it to do topic-based searches or to find gemposts I remember reading a while ago but can't remember who wrote it.
Not a search engine! This is a directory, and the only one on this list. But I remember back to the 90s when I used to start browsing the web by navigating through directories and sub-topics, and this still feels like a valid way to navigate the gemini-verse.
Totally Legit Gemini Search
This is an "experimental" search engine. I don't use it as much, but occasionally. Seems like it works fairly well.---
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