Updated: January 14, 2012
Most people do not take an active part in contributing to the environment. In fact, on the contrary, most people actively help destroy the planet, without even being aware of their maltribution. And yet, most people like to feel good about themselves at the end of the day, which is why you have people donating to charities and humanitarian organizations, animal shelters, universities, and other bodies that do the actual hard work in their place. You pay to feel good, so it seems rather all right in the long run.
While I think most of our benevolent efforts are misplaced, it's the caring and the effort at making an effort that count. It's even better if you don't have to step out of your way. You do what you normally do, and yet you help. That sounds great. And that is what Ecosia is mostly about. Ecosia is a green search engine, running on green energy and dedicated to giving out 80% of its revenue to rainforest protection programs. Your web searches double as an ecological contribution. You were going to search anyway, so why not be noble about it?
The big question is, can you use Ecosia and still enjoy the Internet like you normally do? Does it offer all the things you require, so that your would-be sacrifice truly becomes a transparent effort? Then, there's the question where all the money comes from? How can your searches make money?
In a nutshell, whenever you click on a sponsored link, Yahoo! and Bing, the two companies powering Ecosia, will pay money to the search engine company, which will in turn donate at least 80% of its revenue to preserving the Amazon rainforest. According to site statistics, the project has so far generated more than EUR400K in contribution. Approx. half a million people run their queries through the search engine and growing. Seems like a nice endeavor. But all this depends on one factor - the quality of the search engine. Is it any good?
I took Ecosia for a one hour spin to see how it behaves. The interface is simple and clean, somewhat in between Bing and DuckDuckGo. You can install the engine, i.e. make it the default option in your browser, configure the locale and fine-tune the search results. Most of the top-bar links offer explanations on the rainforest saving project and how Ecosia works. And there's a blog too.
The engine is fast and responsive and returns your queries instantly. From my observation, the text searches are extremely similar to nigh identical to Yahoo!, while images are sourced from Bing. You get various controls and filtering options in the sidebar on the left, but I cannot honestly say who pioneered this, Google or someone else. Overall, the results are decent, clean and, as I've mentioned earlier, quite fast. The functionality seems to be excellent.
Finally, like I mentioned earlier, you get detailed instructions to setup Ecosia as the default engine. This is completely reversible. There's no impact on your work and you can always launch other search engines as you please. Finally, no one will be exploiting you in the name of world peace and whatnot, it's entirely up to you to decide whether to follow sponsored links.
Ecosia looks like an interesting project. I do think it is cashing on human guilt, but it is as good reason as any other, especially since it is making a great contribution. As the sales pitch, apart from shiny looks, what else is there to differentiate one engine from another? Compared to all the rest, at least Ecosia is making an effort, and there does not seem to be a hidden agenda. Yes, the company wants to increase its user base and the revenue, but then all companies do. However, no all companies will gladly part with four fifths of their money.
At the end of the day, Ecosia works well. It's fast, clean, accurate, and useful. The interface is simple and non-intrusive. The quality of search queries probably requires more research and fine-tuning to your particular needs, but it seems as suitable and capable as any other. Lastly, without any false pretenses, Ecosia is making an effort in bettering this world, which can't be said of the vast majority of the said world. For that reason alone, you ought to try it. Whether you stay will depend on your satisfaction as the user, but if you ask me, the initial hook is smart and noble. More companies would do well to follow suit.
That would be all. Ecosia looks nice. Rather recommended.
Thanks to Willem for recommending Ecosia.