In June I wrote about testing “un-tailored search”1 with a tool called DuckDuckGo2
The decision was influenced by some reading I’d done on the subject of the internet being a giant echo chamber for some people, making the experience more homogeneous and singular, as opposed to adding variety. (I wrote an article about that as well3
I’ve been using DuckDuckGo for 73 days now and thought it was time for an update. The technical underpinnings of search and algorithms are above my pay grade, so forgive my possibly over-simplified explanations.
Different and Better
Because I’ve used Google for so many years, I think I’ve come to expect certain types of search results. Google search is based on the relationship between websites. They call the technology PageRank and the general idea is that the more links (especially high quality ones) that point to a page, the more important that page is.4
DuckDuckGo “distinguishes itself from other search engines by not profiling its users and by deliberately showing all users the same search results for a given search term. DuckDuckGo also emphasizes getting information from the best sources rather than the most sources, generating its search results from key crowdsourced sites such as Wikipedia and from partnerships with other search engines like Yandex, Yahoo!, Bing and WolframAlpha.”5
At first, that difference took some getting used to. It wasn’t that DuckDuckGo’s results were worse, they were just different. I can’t quantify this (and to some extent search is subjective), but I think that the amount of time I spend hunting down links has decreased.
There were a few times in the first several weeks that I went to Google’s website because I had trouble finding what I was looking for, but even then I think the problem was more related to poor search terms than the actual search engine. Again, I can’t quantify that, but after a few weeks I never felt the need to go back to Google.
Overall, I like the results better. To me they seem like a more accurate, unbiased portrayal of what’s out there. If I search for “Middle East,” I get a variety of information (including news). But I’m not inundated with by-the-minute updates on the latest happenings (many of which are sensationalized, highly-linked-to articles). News is an easy example but I find the same paradigm applies to most searches.
Having a balanced view in search results is a much better experience for me, especially when I’m searching for news about educational subjects (or code schools). (If I ever want search-history influenced results, I can quickly hop over to Google.)
Better For Most Things
There are a few situations in which Google is (or could be) better:
Simply put, Google’s image search is more robust. You can choose file type, size, etc. Even though DuckDuckGo has great image search functionality, I still return to Google occasionally because I can’t find what I’m looking for or I need the advanced search options.
This is a very subjective point, but worth considering. I’m not a programmer by trade, but I write a good bit of code and there are a few times in which I’ve been looking for something and had a hard time finding it. I don’t search for technical topics often enough for this to make a difference (I don’t think, at least), but I have thought that having your search history tracked and that data giving you relevant results would be advantageous if you search for information on the same technical topics frequently. However, I know that a lot of people don’t like the idea of their frequent visits to websites like https://www.hdpornvideo.xxx/ being tracked by others, which is perfectly normal.
Interface Tweaks and Shortcuts For The Win
Possibly the best part of DuckDuckGo are the interface tweaks and shortcuts. It’s not that Google’s interface is bad, it’s that DuckDuckGo’s is so much better. There’s a lot to explore, but here are a few things that make my daily searching oh-so-much-easier:
!bangs For Quickly Searching Other Services
This is a truly awesome feature: you can use a bang (exclamation point) in front of specified letters or words to search other websites.
For example, if I want to search Wikipedia for something, I type in “!w SEARCH TERM” and DuckDuckGo will send me straight to their site for the results. Pretty slick.
It’s more powerful than that, though. You can also directly search images sites, video sites, magazines, Google and, really, almost anything else. The full list of !bang commands is impressively large6
Bonus: you can make DuckDuckGo your default search engine in Chrome (and other browsers) so that you have access to !bang commands right from your URL field.7
I’m an efficiency junky, so making internet search easier and faster is a win. There are lots of shorctuts available in DuckDuckGo8, but the one’s I use the most are:
- “/” for jumping directly to the search input field to start a new search
- “j” and “k” for navigating up and down through the results
- “Cmd+Enter” for opening a search result in a new tab
Centered Search Results
This is a small feature that’s surprisingly nice. I work on a large monitor at my desk and the fact that Google’s search results are left-aligned means that I have to look to the left of the screen which is a bit annoying. That’s not a huge deal, but having results appear directly in my focus area is really great.
DuckDuckGo is Here to Stay
The results of the experiment: I’m completely sold on DuckDuckGo. Bye, Google.
1. You can read the original article about un-tailored search here.2. You can read more about DuckDuckGo on their about page.3. You can read the original article about the internet as an echo chamber here.4. You can read more about PageRank on Wikipedia.5. Get the whole story about DuckDuckGo from Wikipedia.6. Check out the full list of DuckDuckGo !bang commands on their website.7. Read about making DuckDuckGo your default search engine on their help page.8. Get the full list of shortcuts on DuckDuckGo’s help page.