Two Singaporeans have founded a tech start-up with the ambition to be the next Google and more.
For a start, they are launching a search engine on Saturday that promises to offer users "free, open and autonomous" Internet searches.
Called Boogle, the search engine stores all ranking and search data on blockchain, which is a decentralised store of information shared across a network of computers.
And it cumulatively builds a search ranking system "democratically" from the search results of all its users, said the firm.
One of the founders, Mr Darren Goh, 33, pointed out that Boogle, being built on a hybrid blockchain, will give search results that are free from monopolistic control or jurisdictional restrictions on content.
"Currently, on the market, the search engines record user profiles and keyword searches in their central systems, and they could sell the search terms to third parties," Mr Goh, who is also the chief technical officer, told The Straits Times.
This gives rise to the issue of infringement of personal data privacy, he added.
Two years ago, while running his own IT services firm, Mr Goh and another founder, Mr Patrick Lee, 38, saw blockchain technology as an answer to the issue of Internet giants controlling user data.
They started developing Boogle and have since put together a team of 80 programmers from Russia, India, Pakistan, Sweden and Singapore to build the product.
Said Mr Lee: "The Internet should be a free and open space where we can get unfiltered access to information. However, Internet giants have a disproportionate amount of control over content and our personal data has been mined for profits, without our permission."
Already, there are search engines such as DuckDuckGo and StartPage that market themselves as search tools that respect user privacy and will not sell user data for money.
But the Boogle founders claim to have taken it a step further by using blockchain technology that does not keep data in a central system.
To date, they have pumped in nearly $4 million and are in talks with several global banks and financial institutions, as well as a fintech fund, for further funding.
The firm said the pilot version of the search engine has attracted more than a million users from its key markets of Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and South Korea.
Other than promising data privacy and unrestricted search, Mr Goh said another key feature of Boogle is that users are able to earn as they search.
They are rewarded with BOO tokens, Boogle's own cryptocurrency, for every search or for clicking on advertisements.
Mr Goh admitted that the premise of the search engine being "free and open" has its caveat.
"Keywords such as terrorism, child pornography, drugs and weapons are by default blocked. It is hard-coded in," he said, adding that users can vote for certain websites to be blocked based on a consensus rule.
DIFFERENT GROWTH MODEL
We are trying to be a tech giant, but in a very different way...Our growth will depend on the user community. We will become bigger if the community grows bigger.
MR PATRICK LEE, one of Boogle's founders.
Beyond the search engine, the founders are looking to roll out electronic payments, Web messaging, e-mail and cloud services in the next three years.
And in the second phase of development, they want to venture into video streaming, mobile operating systems like Android, its own physical store and a Boogle mobile phone.
When asked if they are trying to model themselves after Google, the founders say they are not setting out to "challenge or replace any existing companies".
"We are trying to be a tech giant, but in a very different way," said Mr Lee, stressing that all their products and services are to be developed based on a decentralised model.
"Our growth will depend on the user community. We will become bigger if the community grows bigger," he added.
Boogle will open its platform to the public in the next two months and start encouraging people to join its blockchain network.