A Different Search

I’ve seen a lot of people I read and respect making the switch from Google to a search service called DuckDuckGo, so I’ve decided to give it a try as well.

For me, this experiment isn’t really about being concerned due to Google’s new privacy model as much as it’s about tweaking and experimenting and genuinely being curious. I admit I didn’t even bother going through Google’s privacy changes yet because a) I’m waiting for Graham to write one of his in-depth analysis and b) I’m still going to be forced to use Google on a daily basis anyway (with Gmail, Google Reader, Google Apps) so it’s not like I can pretend I’m ditching Google entirely. Sure, Google has been doing some weird stuff with Google+, Search Plus Your World, Twitter and Facebook, and Eric Schmidt. Unfortunately, Google is one of those services that has become so connected to our personal lives and data that I, like many others, can’t wake up one morning and decide I’m not going to use it anymore. And yes, I know Google is using me already as a product to sell. It sucks to depend on something you can’t change (that’s why people use their own email servers, write their own docs, host their own search services. Well I’m not sure about search services – maybe he does).

I’ve been using Google Search since I first got on the Internet, I think, so being curious and willing to try a new search service is more than justified. For the majority of Internet users, Google is the Internet, as they have associated that colorful logo and search box with their concept of the Internet itself (find stuff and websites). Remember, these are the same people that type URLs into Google Search. I’m not one of them, yet I think trying a new search service that’s not Google feels like being single again after a 7 years relationship. Everything’s so new and promising.

As I said, I’m giving this DuckDuckGo thing a try. The name is…particular, but it’s not like Google didn’t sound strange in the first place. What really has me hooked, at least for now, is the zero-click results feature, which thanks to deep integration between DDG and services like Wikipedia and Wolfram Alpha extrapolates data from the results you are looking for, presenting information without forcing you to click through. Like this. Or this. Or even this. The resulting user experience is pretty good, especially when combined with DDG’s clean interface and relatively fast loading times (keep in mind that DDG is fast but still slower than Google, and unlike Google they don’t offer suggestions or real-time updating results yet). I’m surpised a search for this on DDG doesn’t return any meaningful results (from a zero-click standpoint).

So far, I’m impressed by DDG’s clean design, zero-click results and focus on data coming from other services, integrated right into search. Google should do this. It’s the little touches like “Official Site” next to Tapbots' website on DuckDuckGo that can keep users engaged in a search tool they can trust and rely on.

Obviously, DuckDuckGo can’t return as many results as Google does. I’ve been getting good (if not great) results with queries for recent content (let’s say the past year) when searching for articles I remembered the headline for; things started to get a little bit tricky when I didn’t remember the title, and the content was a few months old (I was looking for this: compare Google to DuckDuckGo). Maybe “we don’t do SEO right” at MacStories and all that (honestly, I couldn’t care less), but the behavior I’m observing is that Google Search still feels like magic when you don’t remember the exact words of an article, but you know where you first saw it/what it was about. DDG is clearly focused on “fresh” results with recent content and, believe me, I like its focus, but I won’t deny I need Google’s capabilities when I’m putting together a piece for MacStories and I want to look up our old coverage…on Google. Which works amazingly well for that.

Results aside (and that’s a big aside for me), I’m feeling pretty good about DuckDuckGo. The interface is clean and focused on content; the privacy policy is very upfront and clear about what DDG tracks (short version: basically nothing); there is an active community behind the service and I like how @DuckDuckGo replies to users directly on Twitter. Unfortunately, there is no way to pay for the service and “be a member”, but I’m pretty sure you can find a way to donate. DuckDuckGo itself serves ads in search results but, from what I can tell, only when they’re really pertinent to the search query. Furthermore, DuckDuckGo’s pageviews seem to be (unsurprisingly) up since Google’s latest changes, and I’d be happy to know ads are covering the costs for now. Also, Ben Brooks was right about the !Bang functionality of DDG – it is quite handy if you want to stay on DDG to initiate searches on other sites.

As for how I’m using DuckDuckGo: I’ve set Alfred’s fallback search to use it instead of Google, and some of my favorite iOS apps like Grazing and iCab Mobile support DDG searches out of the box. DDG even has an official iOS client available on the App Store, and even though it’s not great (at least not as good as Google’s own Search app for iPad), it gets the job done. In Google Chrome, which I use, I still keep Google as my default search engine easily accessible from the Omnibar.

I won’t lie, I like DuckDuckGo. I like its design, how features are explained to the user, I like the zero-click implementation and I like this whole “indie” aura that somehow surrounds the service these days. But switching from Google’s cluttered-yet-reliable search results is a big deal to me, and a week isn’t enough to properly judge DDG.

Google may be evil, but it still gives me good results. DuckDuckGo is the good guy, but it needs to grow.

What an interesting time for search engines.

 
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