Updated: June 6, 2011
DuckDuckGo is a silly name, possibly based on the duck, duck, goose game. Even the developers of the so knighted search engine admit as much. But under this seemingly simple and somewhat unprofessional moniker lurks a very powerful, refreshing and unique search engine. We checked.
My interest in DuckDuckGo (DDG) soared from cute and unique to valuable and accurate after my April fiasco with Google Panda update. For reasons yet unbeknownst to me and many thousands of Web writers and site owners affected by the algorithm change, Google's recent tactics promote trash over original content. I blame part pure coding incompetence, part possible catastrophic data center loss, part greed, and part chaos. Personal insults aside, it's the quality and accuracy of search engines queries that really matter. You use Google because you expect information in return. And if you can no longer trust an engine, you look for an alternative.
DuckDuckGo presents itself as the most promising alternative to current giants. Google has always led the charts, and still does, pulverizing competition like Yahoo and Bing. Recently though, Microsoft has tried to improve its image and stepped up the fight in the search domain. But it is still perceived as a lumbering slow giant.
DuckDuckGo comes in handily, driving a sharp wedge into this saturated market with a fresh new approach. It's a hybrid engine that uses results from multiple engines, including Yahoo and Bing, it filters out farm links and general crap, it offers community ratings for shown results, and thrown in a handful more goodies that transform an ordinary work of searching for data into a powerful and precise adventure. You get what you want, plus an extra bonus.
Even if you don't care about Google, Panda or anything related, DDG is an engine you should consider testing. There are many reasons, so let me show you around.
DuckDuckGo is still a small affair. The site generates only several hundred thousand visits a day, but it's growing exponentially. The performance is quite fast, comparable to other search engines. The interface is simple and intuitive.
Queries are laid down in a simple manner, with favicons displayed to the left and, if you choose so, Web of Trust (WOT) ratings. The community site reputation service could be useful if you want to know whether the displayed searches are considered good by users worldwide. Now, this is no exact science, but if you like this kind of thing, then you might want to use it.
On the right side, there are some sponsored ads, as well as keyboard shortcuts for navigation. By default, a single page of results is shown and expanded as you scroll down. Now, let's take a look at some other cool things.
If you're looking for additional features, click on the little white arrow to the right of the search box magnifying glass icon. This will expand the standard text search for websites. You can perform the I'm feeling lucky first-find queries, you can search images on Bing and Google, search for maps, check News, Wikipedia, Youtube, and more. Quite handy. Notice the little shortcuts near each item. This is a feature called !Bang. More about this in a jiffy.
You can click the Settings and Help Out drop-down menus to the right of the search box to customize the engine. You can decide what kind of results you prefer, set privacy options, change the look & feel, learn about keyboard shortcuts, check the forums and chat, and more.
This is one of the strong points of the engine. There's no user tracking. Some people value their privacy most zealously. Even if perceived dangers of the so-called Big Brother corporations tracking you are small and negligible, at least as far as I'm concerned, lots of people will appreciate this feature, despite its real-life real or perceived effect. At the very least, DuckDuckGo offers something that none of the big rival does, which is quite commendable.
Like I mentioned before, you get WOT ratings for displayed sites. You can also perform safe searches. And there's a pure HTTPS version. As you can see, privacy is heavily emphasized.
This is another interesting and unique set of features. Add-ons, using special character combos to boost your search, various shortcuts, and more. DDG lets you perform all kinds of cool searches using the Bang (!) sign plus a magic word, hence the term !Bang. For example, !amazon whatever will search for whatever on Amazon sites. There's a similar functionality for performing image search, cross-referencing resulting on Google and other search engines, and so forth.
And there's a lot more. Geolocation awareness for time, weather, sunrises and sunsets, sending instant messages, homepage personalization, calculations, conversions, and more. Everything you expected and wanted, it's there. And then some.
You can add DDG to Firefox, Chrome and other modern browsers. It works well on all platforms. It's quite nice. But now, the most important thing. How good and accurate this engine really is?
Search engine accuracy and relevance
So far, we've done some fancy talk about cool yet somewhat miscellaneous stuff. None of this really matters unless the search results are relevant. My personal experience is still somewhat limited, after testing DDG for about three months, so please take my findings and opinion with some reservation. That said, I honestly believe that DDG offers fairly precise and useful information. Overall, the quality of searches is best for older content. Recent content features better on Google, for instance.
Moreover, DDG filters out lots of junk, so you won't get too many repeated hits over and over again. You will see original content first and foremost, which is a great thing. Wikipedia searches get an extra bonus, it seems.
I've done some testing using my own site. Queries for various popular items that used to feature prominently on Google until they decided that anything on Blogspot is better than original work elsewhere. So let's see how some of the items that Google decided to penalize in favor of scrappers shows here.
So I did two searches - one for "best linux games" and one for "opensuse 11.4 review". I compared what Google and Bing do versus DuckDuckGo. Let's see what happens when you look for content that ought to display me in the top positions, the way it was on Google and the competition in the past five years.
Best linux games query
Bing shows my own article in the second spot. Google returns my article in the eighth place, whereas another site that links to my own is listed in the second spot. This is an improvement, since in mid-April, Google would show half a dozen copy & paste sites using my content in top places. They've done some sanitization, but it's still less relevant junk and copycats first, original content second. But you've seen this example before. DDG puts me in spot number 1. Bravo me. Winning.
openSUSE 11.4 review query
Bing shows my review in the second spot, not bad. Google does not show it at all, even though my article is listed and quoted in the official SUSE forums and DistroWatch, has garnered tens of thousands of views and whatnot. DuckDuckGo lists my article in the fourth place. Fair's fair. Other people wrote it better than I did.
You can test and see for yourself. I've shown you two examples, but the results are consistent for thousands of queries, Dedoimedo notwithstanding. Overall, DuckDuckGo shows high-quality, original content in top positions, with few or no recycled content. Bing offers similar results. Google's search index is massive, much bigger than the others, but the results are polluted with spam, crap and harvested material.
If you're looking for today's or yesterday's content, Google performs the best. A week from now and onwards, or rather, backwards, you're better off with DuckDuckGo. It has a simpler and friendlier interface that its rival and offers cleaner, more relevant results. You'll see less, but don't let the quantity discourage you. What you're looking for is quality and accuracy, so you don't waste your time chasing links across the feces pool called the Internet.
Finally, as a bonus, if you search for DGV software on Google:
I get the Discrete Geometry Viewer listed, but I also get a sponsored link that says: Want A Discrete Affair? - Add some Excitement To Your Life. And this points to a site that is called ilicitencounters dot com. How cute. I asked for software that does Fourier transformations in a cool, quantum-like way and Google offers me to cheat on my wife. Isn't that lovely and totally RELEVANT to my query? And to think I had excitement in my life. Damn.
DuckDuckGo looks like a very promising project. The interface is simple and friendly. You get lots of extra stuff, sort of like fortune cookies. Most importantly, you get relevant information, the heart, the core, the one and only meaning of data sharing. This is the killer feature that will decide its fate in the long run. Accuracy and fidelity, it's all that matters. Everything else, as fancy and inviting as it may be, is perks. And some big perks they might be, with !Bang, great privacy options and customization aplenty.
On the would-be dark side, DuckDuckGo would benefit from some extra polish and refinement when it comes to displaying options and settings to users, as less skilled people might be a little confused. Allowing a flat search for images and maps would also be a wise idea, as people might not instinctively look for the little drop-down button.
I perceive a bright future for this search engine. It has a lot of potential and could become the next big thing. At the moment, it gets a very honorable 9/10. Keep up and the good work. Meanwhile, I'll continue my dutiful and diligent testing. Peace.
Many thanks to all the people who mailed me and suggested DuckDuckGo!