When my two co-founders and I finally took the plunge, quit our day jobs, and started Meilisearch, we immediately decided to open source the code of our search engine.
We did it because it felt natural: we were accustomed to using and contributing to open source projects, and had started working on Meilisearch with the hope that it could be useful to other developers. We didn't expect that working in open source would quickly become a monumental force that now drives the company's strategy and our entire way of working.
We went from nothing to a community of almost 30k developers—with over 90k unique users every month—in less than two years.
In this article, I'll explain our vision for improving the user-facing search experience and why it can only be accomplished through open source.
Why did we create Meilisearch?
Before creating Meilisearch, my co-founders and I worked in an innovation team at a big-name French e-commerce company. Our last mission there was to reinvent their site navigation through search.
We were fed up with seeing second-rate search bars on the sites and products we loved.
We quickly understood the high cost and complexity of configuring and maintaining existing search solutions, all for less-than-great results. Even the most successful solution on the market, Algolia, was positioned mainly for large e-commerce accounts where a good search experience could translate directly to increased revenue. We were fed up with seeing second-rate search bars on the sites and products we loved.
That's why we decided to create a search engine that could suit all types of products and companies to end the mediocre search crisis. Search, welcome to the 21st century!
Why our vision can't happen without open source
Open source attracts developers
It’s well known that search experiences on the web are often dissatisfactory. But what is a search engine in the first place?
I would argue that a search engine is, above all, a tool for developers—much like a database. And if we look at the history of databases, open-source options are among the most popular. Access to the code, ease of deployment and modification, being part of a community—these are just some of the points that attract developers to open source tools.
Thanks to our decision to go open source, developers can try out Meilisearch as a side project, as part of their education, or—if they are lucky—during their work. Moreover, if they need help, they know that thousands of other developers like them are ready to answer their questions. If they have a problem, they can easily report it and even help fix it.
Open source generates feedback
Developers can have a direct impact on the direction of an open-source project by giving feedback and creating issues on GitHub.
We don't need to go looking for feedback anymore; it comes naturally to us.
Whether coming from our many GitHub repositories, our Slack community, or our public roadmap, we get hundreds of bits of feedback every week—not to mention some great conversations with developers. We don't need to go looking for feedback anymore; it comes naturally to us.
This co-design process is vital to all of our product development, and it doesn’t stop with feedback: we also receive a lot of direct code contributions, helping us to improve and maintain our search engine, SDKs, and dev tools.
Open source helps us build quickly
Using search to improve user experiences on the web is not an easy task. It is impossible for a company of our size to tackle the problem from all sides at once. On our own, we have to take the problems one by one.
However, we are not on our own. In addition to helping us prioritize our roadmap, our community also helps us tackle more problems at once—including many that are not our priority.
For example, if tomorrow several community members need an integration with Shopify, we can help them develop it and then share it with the rest of the community. Our product is able to grow gradually, procedurally, according to our user’s needs.
If today we have 20 libraries updated every month, it's thanks to our community!
Open source influences our design
Improving the search experience for all is not only about distributing a good search engine; it is also and above all about designing a good search engine. And once again, open source brings its own set of advantages. Public development naturally pushes us towards the most straightforward, intuitive solution possible so that developers can use and test it quickly.
Today, we can confidently say that we have the most convenient search engine on the market.
Since day one, simplicity of use has been at the heart of the Meilisearch project. Step one was a massive investment in the project documentation. Then, thanks to the community and our completely public product management, we made sure that each new feature was understandable by everyone and very easy to access. Today, we can confidently say that we have the most convenient search engine on the market.
You will have understood by now: open source is part of our DNA. Thanks to it and with it, we intend to grow our solution and change the world of search. That's why we will continue to work hand in hand with our community and together improve the search experience for internet users across the globe.
If you also feel concerned about the state of search, please help us in our fight by joining the community. If you want to show your support, you can star or “watch” our GitHub repository to receive updates.
Glad to have you with us on this journey,
Quentin de Quelen
PS: If you are already using Meilisearch and are looking for a hosted version, check out our new Cloud offering. Don't have time for the waiting list? Reach out on our community Slack and tell us about your situation so we can give you access as soon as possible.