Cool article over on FastCoLabs, “Inside DuckDuckGo, Google’s Tiniest, Fiercest Competitor”, which talks about an up and coming search engine called DuckDuckGo. I’d heard about it a a couple of years ago, mentioned in an article about more secure options for internet searches outside of google and it’s tracking practices. I tried it once and didn’t think much of it at the time, but I’m glad to see it has evolved a fair bit.
Here are some quotes from the full article (which you should definitely read):
Looking at the modern history of the search space, Weinberg noticed that several companies in the early 2000s had tried–and failed–to rival Google by mimicking its method of mass-indexing the web. Instead of following this ambitious (and very expensive) path, Weinberg decided to let other companies’ infrastructure do most of the heavy lifting so that his startup–initially, just him coding at home with his newborn son nearby–could focus on building a superior experience for finding information online. The key, as he saw it, would be Instant Answers.
“The result was DuckDuckGo, a search engine offering direct answers to people’s queries, rather than merely delivering a list of links. Below these so-called “Instant Answers,” the site still displays traditional, link-by-link search results syndicated from third parties like Bing and Yandex but, crucially, they’re filtered and reorganized to reduce spam.
“When you do a search, you generally want an answer. You don’t necessarily want to click around links,” Weinberg says. “It’s our job to try to get an answer. Our grand vision is that that happens for 80% of queries, even for very niche things.”
This is the biggest risk for any startup who dares challenge a giant head-on: At any point, the Googles or Facebooks or Apples of the world can just mimic what made you different, slam-dunking your shattered dreams into the wastebin of tech history.
Weinberg and his small team seem undeterred. After all, DuckDuckGo has one asset that Google could never copy, even if it wanted to.
“When you do a search from DuckDuckGo’s website or one of its mobile apps, it doesn’t know who you are. There are no user accounts. Your IP address isn’t logged by default. The site doesn’t use search cookies to keep track of what you do over time or where else you go online. It doesn’t save your search history. When you click on a link in DuckDuckGo’s results, those websites won’t see which search terms you used. The company even has its own Tor exit relay, allowing Tor users to search DuckDuckGo with less of a performance lag.
Simply put, they’re hardcore about privacy.”
“The Wolfram Alpha experience really opened my eyes to the fact that you could have answers for really esoteric stuff,” says Weinberg. “And we started including them. You could have answers for tons and tons of topics that our team knew absolutely nothing about. Celebrities, for example. We’re not big on pop culture here.”
One user, for instance, was a big Lego nerd. As Lego enthusiasts know, each piece of the iconic building block set has a unique ID number. To make looking up those pieces easier on DuckDuckGo, he crafted a plug-in that pulls from a database of Lego pieces built by Lego fans every bit as geeky as he is.
Another example of this private searching is www.startpage.com, which as I understand it literally pulls google results for you without giving google any of your information (kind of like a middle man). But it seems like an actual community has sprouted up around DuckDuckGo which is exciting and holds promise for the future.
You may have also noticed a reference to Wolfram Alpha, which bills itself as a “Computational Knowledge Engine” (not a “search engine”). I’ve tried that one too, but also not much, because the sorts of things I tend to want or need to search for aren’t as applicable.
Wolfram|Alpha introduces a fundamentally new way to get knowledge and answers—
not by searching the web, but by doing dynamic computations based on a vast collection of built-in data, algorithms, and methods. Bringing deep, expert-level knowledge to everyone… anytime, anywhere.
In conclusion, I think we should all take another moment to thank Edward Snowden, as he undeniably changed forever the way we interact with the internet. I’d say for the better.