Updated: December 28, 2018
Back in 2011, I wrote about DuckDuckGo, a new search engine focused on privacy. I came looking for an alternative to Google, and found a tool that had a very promising future. Fast forward to 2018, DuckDuckGo (DDG) has been growing, gaining popularity, especially in the light of various privacy breaches that abounded in the past couple of years. Likewise, I've continued testing and trying this engine, exploring its options and abilities.
Which means it's time for another review. For me, switching software and products is not a trivial thing, because I like things to be perfect, especially if I need to change my usage patterns. Let's see whether DDG has reached the point where it can usurp the throne, and become the gateway for information. Commence.
So how does one go about exploring a search engine? By exploring! Every search engine is the same, in essence. You get a box, you type, you hit Enter, results show up. Well, that's as far as similarities go. DDG tries to be extra-clever, and its strongest selling point, apart from privacy of course, are qualifiers. DDG lets you search across a range of other sites using qualifies called !bangs.
For example, if you search for !w <string>, it will display only results for that string on Wikipedia domains. You can do the same with a whole load of other sites. DDG supports thousands of these, across numerous categories. You can also search on Google, Bing, Yahoo, and other engines. From inside DDG.
Contextual information & artificial intelligence
DDG is not just about showing you a list of results. It can also do things, based on your queries. Among other things, it will slightly alter the search menu based on what you look for, adding categories like products, meanings, definitions, and such. It will also do things on the fly, like show calendar or math calculations.
Overall, DDG tries to be smart and interactive - you can ask it questions, and it will answer back. It also offers cheat sheets, for when they are available, it can generate passwords, and there are many other functions available - stop watch, QR codes, thesaurus, and more. If there's one downside to this whole thing is that it's somewhat hard to discover all the goodies, and you usually end up reading articles showcasing some of the gems and hidden extras that this versatile search engine offers.
Maps & directions
This is a really powerful feature. DDG integrates nicely with maps, and you can use multiple backend providers for navigation and routing, so you're not limited in any way. You can choose your default provider, but also change it on the fly as you use the maps. Don't forget directions, too. This is cool, especially if your device has a built-in GPS.
DDG is set up as a privacy-conscious product, and no user data is collected, harvested or profiled. In fact, it does not even set any cookies by default, and it strips any unique information when forwarding queries to other engines, if you use !bangs. You can save your search engine configuration to the cloud, but this is done in a non-personally identifiable way. I am less concerned about privacy than most people, but I can definitely understand and appreciate the effort the DDG folks have put into their product.
At first glance, I wasn't too happy with how DDG was rendering on my screen. The text was too pale. Not really readable. My initial impression was, what the ... But then I noticed the settings, and in there, the option to change themes. Right away, you can customize the look of your search results, either using presets or making your own color scheme. You can go for modern and unreadable or old and contrastful.
And if you're in the mood, then under Appearance, you can make a load of other, custom changes. You can set the font type and size, change the width of the search box and the displayed results, change alignment, and define the page background color. Really neat.
You get the experience that you want - or your eyes need perhaps:
I am very happy - and even fairly surprised - by the amount of stuff that DuckDuckGo offers. Its unassuming appearance belies the wealth and breadth of functionality hidden (literally) beneath the interface. DDG is versatile, flexible, cooperative, and perhaps even too modest. It also comes with solid privacy, works well with thousands of engines and other information/data providers, offers contextual information and quick answers on a range of topics, and even has maps and directions. Very cool.
Day by day, I am more inclined to switch and use DDG. It's not the question of habit or set patterns. There's genuine incentive in migrating to DDG, mostly because of all the extras that it gives. When it comes to search, across the entire desktop space, there's been a bit of a confusion in the last few weeks, so whatever you choose, you probably won't get as much precision and clarity as say five years ago. So on that front, the actual added value is less. Everything else is what makes DDG a smart, useful tool. If anything, you will be genuinely pleased by the exploration, even if, at the end of the day, you don't make the switch. Yet. A question of time only, it seems. Very nice, quite recommended.