DuckDuckGo

Google currently is the most successful search engine. In fact, the verb “google” has made it to the Oxford English Dictionary. The reason for its success it quite simple: it is fast, it has a clean interface and it almost always gives you the results you are looking for. Compared to the alternatives when it started (1998), google was by far the best.

But now it is 2011, and times have changed. Google has evolved, and so have the competitors. And, more importantly, new alternatives have arrived. One of these alternatives is DuckDuckGo. And I like it.

Interface

Some years ago, I watched a Google Tech Talk called “Don’t make me click“. Short summary: less is more in interface design. And, more specifically, less clicking is more. The speaker, Aza Raskin, mentions how the simple and clean interface of Google is good: it is a text box where you type, and then you hit “search” to search. He then added all kinds of buttons and news items and other things to click on to Google’s interface, and it was much worse. It is sad to see that Google itself has become more cluttered. It’s not as cluttered as competitors like the Yahoo! or Bing homepages, but still.

DuckDuckGo has that clean interface that Google used to have. A logo and a search bar, that’s it. There are some small links below the search bar, but nothing too distracting. It isn’t a really big deal, but it is an advantage of DuckDuckGo over Google.

The search results page, however, is quite a big deal. DuckDuckGo really stuck to the philosophy of “less clicks is better”. Unlike Google, where you have to go to the next page after 10 results, DuckDuckGo automatically loads more results when you reach the bottom of the page. But the best thing is the so-called “zero click info”. On top of the results page is some information displayed about what you searched for. For example, searching for “xkcd” will produce the latest xkcd comic and when searching for “birthday problem” a short description of the birthday problem is shown from Wikipedia.

Goodies and Shortcuts

What I like best about DuckDuckGo is the enormous amounts of goodies and shortcuts. Apart from showing links to pages where this is answered, it also answers the question itself. If you want to know your ip address, just type in “ip address” and it gives it to you. For more goodies, there is an overview of goodies and technical goodies.

The single most brilliant part of DuckDuckGo is the use of “!bang”-commands. These are small commands that start with an exclamation mark or “bang”. These are useful if you are not happy with the results DuckDuckGo gives you. If you want to perform a search on Google, you type “!g” in your query. If you want to look for images, “!i” is the command you want to use and if you want to look on StackOverflow, just type “!so”. Neat little trick: if you set DuckDuckGo as your browser’s default search engine, “!so” serves as a shortcut to the main page of StackOverflow.

Privacy

Privacy and Google haven’t been good friends lately. Every time you search using Google, it is logged. Every time you follow a link in Google, that website knows that you came from Google and what you were looking for, because the referrer is sent along with the HTTP request. DuckDuckGo prevents this, by using an intermediate page. This way the site you visit only knows that you are using DuckDuckGo, not your search query.

Google thinking for me

Another downside of Google (in my opinion) is that they show results that are not only relevant to your search, but pages that it thinks you like. This might seem well, but it actually makes me trust Google less. Suppose the following is the case: I have some problems with Microsoft Windows. I use Google to try and find solutions to my problems. So Google thinks I am interested in Windows. When I want to use a different operating system, and I look for “Operating System”, most links will probably be about Windows, when what I actually want is Mac OS or Ubuntu.

The most annoying “feature” of google is that it tries to correct stuff for me, or look for words that are similar to the word I was looking for. For example, when I look for “java”, I don’t want to know stuff about “javascript” or vice versa. They are completely different languages. However, Google seems to think otherwise and will produce results for both languages when you are looking for either one.

Try it

In the end it is a personal choice. If you like Google better, stick to Google. But if you are open for it, give DuckDuckGo a try. If you don’t enjoy it, there is nothing preventing you to use Google. But if you don’t try, you’ll never know.


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