“Just Google it”. There are few other phrases that demonstrate just how ubiquitous Google search has become. Google is so popular that people are either unaware other search engines exist or just unwilling to use them and to be fair there are good reasons for that. Google’s service is excellent, it is integrated with their browser (chrome) and all of their other services (Drive, gmail, google docs etc.) The fact is, for a long time Google has just been better than the competition. That being said there are many reasons one might want to try a different service. Maybe you are trying to “De-googilfy” your life, maybe you find one provider controlling all of your services uncomfortable or maybe you’re just curious about the alternatives. Whatever your reason, I’d like to introduce you to a relative newcomer to the Search Engine scene, DuckDuckGo.
DuckduckGo is billed as the privacy browser or “The search engine that doesn’t track you” to use their words. This is a pretty powerful hook, in fact it’s the main reason that I decided to try it out in the first place. It was founded in 2008 but it really started growing in 2012 when it first hit 1 million searches a day. The search engine has really spread it’s wings since then and now has over 13,000,000 searches a day. Growth spurred in part by the Snowden leaks.
So, how does DuckDuckGo compare to Google Search? Well, lets find out.
The most important aspect of a search engine is of course the results. At first glance it seems like Google has the edge over DuckDuckGo. Google results are constantly updated, meaning that you will get a far larger number of results when searching through them than when using DuckDuckGo. Google also keeps track of what you are searching and attempts to ensure things that would interest you reach the top of your results and to do it’s best to make sure everything you see is relevant to you personally.
This has its pitfalls however. Google’s methods means they can create a “filter bubble” and you tend to find that sponsored content at the top of your list.
In comparison, DuckDuckGo doesn’t list its findings based on your previous searches and only on your keyword. This means that you tend to get the official website first rather than sponsored content but you will get far less results than you would using Google and sometimes the results aren’t quite what you were looking for.
Overall, I would say that Google has the edge here because you can get a better variety of results but DuckDuckGo’s results will always try to find you the official, rather than sponsored, link first and does prevent you from being trapped in a filter bubble.
DuckDuckGo’s focus is on building a “private” environment for its users. DuckDuckGo have promised not to collect any data on their users. They also take active steps to prevent “search leakage”. The phenomenon where, when you click on a result from a search engine to get into a website, it gives that website your IP address, browser information and search terms used to find them. This allows websites to find out how you found them, but also means they collect a great deal of information about the visitors to their site. DuckDuckGo does not collect any information on its user and so it cannot sell any information to third party advertisers or be compelled to hand this information over to Law Enforcement agencies.
Google on the other hand focuses on building a “personalized” environment for its users. This requires Google to collect a lot of information on its users browsing habits, including keywords, IP addresses and previously visited sites. This allows Google to deliver the content that is most relevant to you. It also allows Google to sell your information to advertisers so that they can deliver targeted ads to you that they believe you will find most ‘useful’.
DuckDuckGo is clearly the browser for privacy minded users but this means that it looses a lot of Google’s “personal touch” and the information you find will be more generic.
When it comes to extras both browsers are come with an impressive arsenal. Google features significantly better search controls than its smaller competitor and everything is integrated with other Google services, providing a seamless web experience. You have easy access to services such as Google flights and maps and the search engine is tailored to how you use it, which is pretty cool. The downside is that this means all of your eggs are in one basket and you’re pretty much trapped in Google’s ecosystem.
DuckDuckGo has a whole host of features that Google doesn’t possess. One of the coolest of these is !bangs. Bangs are a feature that allow you to search directly on a site through DuckDuckGo. Lets say that you need to find a video and you know it is on Youtube. You can type “!yt cute cat videos” and DuckDuckGo will search Youtube directly for you, saving you valuable cat watching seconds. DuckDuckGo is also significantly more customizable than Google, you can change your background, layout, style, font and text color to suit your own needs or aesthetic desires.
DuckDuckGo also comes with an array of special search terms, you can search for social media profiles, alternatives to certain services, calculate the price of a loan, check whether a website is up as well as a lot of other cool stuff. Google does offer some of these services but not all.
When it comes the search tools themselves, Google does have some tricks up its sleeves. In particular Google has much more powerful filters that allow you to set any number of parameters to filter your results by. Google also has a lot more search categories, you can search by book, news, scholarly articles etc. Which gives it an edge.
So, which is better?
To be honest it’s a tough one. Both Google and DuckDuckGo are really solid search engines and it really depends on what you want out of your web experience.
If you want personalized results, don’t mind your information being tracked to improve your experience and want as wide a range of results as possible, stick with Google.
If you want as much privacy as you can get, are interested in open source and want to ensure you get the official sites first and want to separate your services, then DuckDuckGo is the choice for you.
Personally, I started using DuckDuckGo a year ago. over time it became my primary search engine and now I would struggle to go back to using Google full-time, especially with the knowledge of how much of my privacy I sign away to use their services. I will be the first to admit that DuckDuckGo isn’t perfect and there are occasions where I am forced to !g my searches but it is improving all the time.
DuckDuckGo is a great alternative to Google and if you are at all interested in protecting your privacy I would recommend giving it a go.