Monday, October 9, 2017

DuckDuckGo: tracker-free search (assuming you want that)

A little while ago I read about DuckDuckGo, the tracker-free search alternative to Google. While I could call myself a generally satisfied Google customer, I am not so satisfied that I'm not willing to look at a pro-privacy alternative, and DuckDuckGo stands firmly on the idea tracking—or any type of account or sign-in whatsoever—is not a necessary ingredient for a good search engine.

I decided I'd take the DuckDuckGo challenge myself. Rather than simply using it a few times, I opted to go full-bore, changing my browser's default search engine setting so that typing terms into my address bar generates a DuckDuckGo search rather than a Google search. As you might imagine, I've had several people sharing a screen with me ask "what's DuckDuckGo?" or, more commonly, "That's not Google!"

In addition to providing a private, ad-free search experience, a notable DuckDuckGo feature is its use of "bangs" to create shortcuts to searching specific sites or services directly from the DuckDuckGo search bar.  DuckDuckGo includes a number of preset bangs and also allows for user-created ones as well, enabling instant search for specific websites. For example, including "!g" before a search conducts an encrypted Google search, using Google's search engine and, unsurprisingly, about of half of my searches started with it. The reason, however, was not as straightforward as I expected.

I quickly found I typed searches into my browser less out of inquiry and more out of laziness. When I searched "Gallien Krueger bass amplifier," I already knew I wanted search results to include the Sweetwater or MusiciansFriend websites, the Gallien Krueger website, and maybe a couple reviews from major music publications. I was not actually searching but was rather requesting Google aggregate the things I expected to find.

Furthermore, when DuckDuckGo actually delivered me results I did not expect, more often than not my first impulse was to immediately type "!g" into the search bar and repeat the search. Google, after all, uses what it already knows about your past searching and browsing habits to tailor/improve/craft your search results specifically to you. I've had several instances where I searched for specific sites or organizations only to have their official site not show up in the first few results (or even at all). While that could be a possible flaw with DuckDuckGo, I also recognize that this often coincides with my typing the site name into my search bar rather than simply typing the web address and going straight there.

DuckDuckGo will deliver on its promise of a truly private, encrypted search, assuming that's what you actually want. On the occasions when I truly did not have a search result in mind before typing my query (recipes, general subject inquiries, etc.) I had no issue with DuckDuckGo's search results. I do recommend others give DuckDuckGo a try.

...assuming, of course, you are actually searching for something new.

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