4.22.2012

DuckDuckGo: the search engine that packs a punch!

***I am not associated with DuckDuckGo by any means at all. This post, my entire domain likewise, is my personal opinion.***

While it's easy to find alternatives to many things in the realms of computing - for example, hardware, applications, ISPs, OSes - there are a few things that usually remain overlooked for most users. Most of these are related to the Internet somehow. For example, email services, news feeds and search engines are things that usually are not compared or swapped by users in a regular basis, mostly because they pretty much fully resemble their competitors' services. In this post, I will do something unusual, and show an alternative search engine that I've been using for a while now.

DuckDuckGo is a search engine created with two core values in mind: Privacy and Straightforwardness. I usually could care less about privacy - I don't think I do that many bad things in the web - but getting things with the least amount of bullshit involved does interest me. I mean, straightforward results are the one big thing that Wikipedia lacks. DuckDuckGo bundles them by default, and as a result, you get a secure search with less spam and bullshit around. Two-in-one!

For some reason, DDG has a huge chapter talking about it's privacy policy. They explain how search engines can track and encircle you, citing Google specifically as their sole example. Whoa there, chill! What has the G-man done to you? This kind of reassures my thesis that they are actually the guys from Scroogle under a new skin. Well, either that or plain old paranoia.

Dumbasses.
Features:
I very much think that switching to DDG from one of the "mainstream" search engines pretty much resembles the switch from Windows to Linux. You come fresh from an environment of "do one thing only" to suddenly being able to do pretty much whatever you want, only that it takes some time to learn. And that's how it works with DDG. It has a lot of features (some that you'll never use) besides searching, which you can find listed here.

There's one feature that deserves a highlight: the ability to pipe the queries directly into target websites, other search engines included. This is done through what they call the "!bang" syntax, and I believe it is its greatest strength. The pipes work in such way that you can cut tremendous amounts of time with the proper setup and familiarity. For example, if you set Chrome to search through DDG by default, accessing an article in Wikipedia becomes a single line in the address bar:

!wiki article-title

Got a video in YouTube in mind? Just type:

!yt video-title

Hey, let's check Facebook:

!fb

I guess my point is made for this one. In particular, the "!" modifier helps loads since it works similarly to Google's "I'm feeling lucky," only without needing to click around. This ability leads me to call DDG a meta-search engine.
Right on!
Drawbacks:
As expandable as DDG can be, there are a few things that it can't do by default, resorting to third-party redirection. For example, it doesn't perform any kind of image or video searching. Sure, you can use the "!image" tag, but guess what? All it does is pipe the query into Google Images, destroying the original purpose. Keep in mind, DDG does that because it can't do it by itself, and that is also true for news, videos and map queries. It's like passing the ball because you know you're about to lose it.

The relevance-orientation of search results ironically limits the capabilities for certain searches. Quoted searches (exact terms) won't be as useful as in Google's searches because DDG treats findings in fragments as spam. For example, searching for an exact quote of a book may not show up in DDG, which will prompt the !google tag as a solution. Searching for song lyrics sometimes also yield an empty result page, which doesn't happen in Google.

And also, what's this over-the-top boasting about privacy? You're not the only one around when it comes to safe porn surfing, so don't make that your flagship. Here's another well known contender that does just the same:

a simple URL trick does it.
The "tracking" criticism that creeps into Google can actually be bypassed using a few easy, but little known options. In fact, Scroogle did little things like that, besides being hosted on Google's side-servers. It isn't too hard, and if privacy was really the only issue, there would be no real reason to switch.

Conclusion

DuckDuckGo may bear a silly name, but it's impressively powerful for its looks. It strives for relevance, and the piping capabilities can expand its domain to virtually anywhere the web touches. Even better, nobody is watching you while you're at it. It still kind of sucks for image searching, but who knows? It's still a young site, and as sponsors and servers come in, it might as well incorporate such tools of its own.

I cannot end this review without mentioning the popularity of DuckDuckGo among Linux users: it comes bundled by default in the browsers of several distributions such as Linux Mint, SliTaz and Knoppix, and several other projects have made partnership with it. Go ahead, give it a try.


Quack on.


April 2012 by K. Zimmermann
Contact me.

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