I have been using Duck Duck Go for about 9 months now, it is set as my homepage and used as my main search engine (S.E.). Well that’s only partially true because I use different browsers for different purposes. I use Opera for the social web (Twitter homepage with twitter search for real-time/opinions search), Firefox for web-developing work and part time use of its plugins (Google homepage – mainly just as an alternative), but for most general internet surfing which is most likely to involve research and finding things where I need an unbiased SE, I use Internet Explorer with DDG. Why IE I hear you ask? Because it loads fastest. I know you hate it but it loads quick and I am impatient and have the memory span of a goldfish. I open and close so many windows so many times it’s untrue. I can check my email about 3 times in a row before it registers I’ve already done it.
With SE’s I don’t like Google for reasons which would engulf this post (perhaps a future post). Yahoo is OK and Bing is… useless. Anyhow I will walk the uneducated through the brilliant search features of Duck Duck Go and provide mainly poor examples of how and why I use it.
The homepage is really simple and exists to provide you with a place to search. There are no distractions about
places you have never been (Bing), news items about politicians you can’t trust anyway (Yahoo), advertisements or “read my blog” deviations.
It is a search engine and rightfully has no shame in having no other services such as email, translation tools etc. It allows you to get on and search.
Beneath the logo and the query entry box are four images of the search types. Just hovering over each image with the mouse changes the search type, no need to click.
The default is “search” which is a general search, though next to it are the useful tools of “information” and “shopping”.
There is also I’m Feeling Ducky which used to serve a different purpose but is now similar to Google’s I’m Feeling Lucky button, useful if you know you want the first result. E.G Feeling Ducky with “youtube” would skip you straight to Youtube.com. (This is a poor example though as the !bang feature will later prove.)
But back to Information and Shopping. Entering Lady Gaga into Information Search returns precisely that – sites with information about Lady Gaga. The results in order are (ignoring for a minute in this example zero-click and topic/category etc.);
- Her Homepage
- Wikipedia entry
- Articles about
- Tour information
- IMDB page
- Biography pages etc.
Basically they are all sites with information about her. Now switch to “Shopping” search by clicking the small trolley/cart by the query box. The results are;
- Her Homepage
- Sites that sell her music and concert tickets
Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t this exactly how it should be if I was stupid enough to actually want to search for things about Lady Gaga? I am not a fan, I am just quite poor at picking examples.
Remember I said you can click to change search type? You don’t need to because you can use the keyboard. In fact there are a few useful keyboard shortcuts that the developers have thought of. It’s so simple but so helpful especially to the laptop users amongst us, I don’t think I do use the mouse at all whilst surfing DDG. It’s frankly unbelievable
Google, Yahoo and Bing (GYB – or the big three) don’t or still haven’t implemented the idea. Here is a list of the shortcuts.
- ↓ or j – next result
- ↑ or k – last result
- Enter or l – go to result
- / – go to search box
- ‘ – open result in new window
- → ← – switch search types
- r – go to related topics (if any)
I also like the loading of page 2,3 etc to infinity of the results as you scroll. Would you like to skip straight to page 3900 of GYB’s results and wait for them to load? Precisely.
Put something with multiple meaning into “GYB” and you will find they will interpret it in different ways. For example I will use the query “star” (I’m in the UK for what is it worth). Bing returns a list of Astrological star signs, Google’s best effort is a Malaysian newspaper and Yahoo, after serving up an incredibly irrelevant advert for bookmakers and casino William Hill think I want the tabloid newspaper the Daily Star. I did state earlier I wasn’t going to talk about why I especially hate these engines but here is quite literally, a stellar example. Google seem to be ignorant of, or incapable of dealing with the SEO crowd. Actual relevance seems to be… irrelevant anymore. Yahoo by nature wants to make money of me and Bing seems to be OK this time though is usually irrelevant.
But enter “star” into DDG (with “search” type). DDG knows that star means different things and asks you to narrow it down. Firstly you can do it by category or browse through the different meanings. In this example there are places called Star, different musicians and song titles with Star, a Polish Truck manufacturer called Star, the list is quite large to reproduce here. This is not the best example of a use of the disambiguation page because nobody really searches for “star” but you can see it’s use. Imagine you know there is a truck manufacturer called Star but you don’t know anything about where they are from or what models they make. Using the query “star trucks” on GYB I cannot seem to find any result pertaining to the intended destination. “Star” alone with disambiguation on DDG gets me there in one page (star.pl). Disambiguation is useful both for serving you up the right topic and when you don’t know precisely what you’re searching for. E.G. What’s that pop-star? “Gaga” something.
Zero Click Info
Going back to the “Lady Gaga” example and that red box that came up before the results, that is 0-Click information. Essentially it is short snippets of Wikipedia or other open rights information sources. Example use: A person such as my Grandad with no knowledge of popular culture wants to know what Lady Gaga means so he (should) DDG’s it. It tells him “Lady Gaga is an American recording artist”. That’s perfect for him, he has no wish to investigate further – job done. I wanted to know the dates of the US/Vietnam War without a history of democracy vs communism lecture 0-Click gave me exactly the info I needed.
I’ll admit Zero Click is not always perfect or useful. It pops up when you didn’t wish it to or it can have little relevancy, or not the info at all. The “Star Trucks” example before prompted a Zero-Click about Volvo Trucks which is not relevant and “Winston Churchill” gave his job title but not simple facts like his date of birth. That is less of a fault but a personal desire though really, it required 1-click through to Wikipedia so no need to cry.
!Bang really sets DDG apart from other search engines. You would never see GYB doing this because it takes you away from the site. Bang is essentially searching other popular sites without having to go there first, or a faster way of getting to that site without typing the URL or searching for it. All you have to do is type the !shortcut first (with exclamation mark) and the query and you will be taken to that sites search results page. Entering “!youtube John Denver” will take you to Youtube’s list of videos with John Denver. You may be thinking why wouldn’t you just go to Youtube and search, but if you are like me, impatient and have DDG as your homepage it is such less hassle. Especially if you know all of the !bang sites available. Jobs, maths, holidays, maps, TV, bit torrents and much more. Use Bang for one week and you will miss it if disappeared.
On the settings page you can change preferences. Most are presentational but the two important ones are Region and SafeSearch. Note if you are outside the US, make sure you change the Region settings to truly get the best out of DDG. (See Downfalls at the bottom of this post.)
Quality of Results
I can’t be bothered talking much about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – go read (I just !bang-found that link – beautiful!), but I find Google is too vulnerable now to the SEO crowd which is actually making results seem a little off. Despite efforts to find one now, I wish I could find an example of what I’m trying to say. The “star” example I gave before will do for argument’s sake, though I can’t be sure the Malaysian Newspaper is trying its best efforts to be top for “star”. I do however, as a self-titled “power web user” who is clued up about SEO, find results on Google that aren’t what I would consider the best available. It is still a great search engine but after using DDG I don’t really use it. In the main I find results on DDG top-notch straight away. I rarely have to scroll down much to get the best result. One great reason for this is that DDG has no reason or
want to include every single page on the web in its index. It’s pointless – nobody uses Cuil despite it claiming to have a brazillion gazillion pages in its index. They overlooked the fact that big isn’t good. DDG has a great reference list of parked domains and spam sites thanks to a different project by owner Gabriel Weinberg which removes those annoying types of pages you keep stumbling on via GYB.
I don’t really know how DDG works. I know they use open sites as sources and I believe they have their own crawler though I don’t recall it visiting my sites, even those that are indexed.
They used to use Google’s search results and Yahoo’s search API though as results have constantly improved I cannot be sure. I do know Google results were dropped because of privacy issues but where the results and rankings come from I don’t know. I’ll be honest as a searcher over webmaster and say I hope they keep it quiet too.
A while back Google or Bing declared it would put SafeSearch on by default and Duck(x2)Go shouted triumphantly that it had always done that. This bothers me not. If relevancy is great (which it is here) you shouldn’t be getting XXX for Mickey Mouse. If kids want to search for porn, they are probably clever enough now to know how to navigate a site and switch SafeSearch off. In fairness it is probably a good feature whatever SE you use. I overlook it because I don’t have children or care what my eyes see, yeah I go on Chat Roulette.
But back to Results Quality – very good. There is room for improvement on how quickly results get indexed. Anphicle.com (here!) is not indexed though was only registered less than 2 weeks ago (Maybe they don’t want it!). You will have a hard time finding news events from the past week or month and there is no chance of real-time results. But this is where !bang comes back into play, if the results fail just press / to hop back to the search box and type the !bang. Bang !twitter if you hear about a major earthquake or !bbc if an election gets called. Timeless information and shopping results are two great areas for DDG’s results.
I like it – OK I would because I use it, but I really do recommend you should try it. It has features (category/topic pages, 0-click, disambiguation, keyboard navigation etc) that Google, Yahoo, Bing should use but don’t and !bang, which is so useful but GYB or anybody else for that matter would never use. As I have seen this Search Engine grow in traffic volume and queries I see it ever improving in the quality of results and features. Not only that, I like the fact
they listen to feedback regarding design and new features. There used to be a sponsored result above all else but after notes from users that it was unfriendly, it was moved to the sidebar. This with !bang just shows how great DDG is in that it wants to help you search rather than capitalise on your visit. Dear Duck Duck Go, please never put the $$$ in front of usability, Thanks. If you can recommend a !bang too, they will listen.
Privacy is a big issue now too. Users, like myself, who worry about the intrusion of people such as Google and the data they store will be pleased with Duck Duck. They do not store user data or IP addresses at all, let alone matching them with queries. I completely despise the whole visitor-metrics of large sites. I can understand there is money at stake, but those such as Facebook which will target ads at the over 30 years old female Sociology students from Denmark are being too specific for their own good. Most of us lie on profile pages like that, I’m not really 126 years old from Bouvet Island. But I’ve gone way off topic, point is Duck Duck Don’t Do that kind of crap. Nice.
Downfalls of Duck Duck
It was about 6 months before I realised DDG had settings, though that was before the homepage got simpler by design. The issue was that there was a United States bias to results, and as a Brit I was visiting other SE’s for local searches. When I stumbled on the settings it was another sharp rise in my use of DDG. My only problem now is remembering to reset to UK after CCleaning my comp. I have visited duckduckgo.co.uk though it redirects back to .com. Perhaps the next best thing for DDG to do after quicker indexing? As far as features go I am highly satisfied. For image search or maps I would rather !bang to other sites then have results that weren’t as good as the current web search’s are.
Some people have tweeted DDG needs to change the name to something shorter but I couldn’t care less. Bing tried to find a word that could be a short and snappy verb like Google but does anybody really care? Would Bing be any better if it was still called MSN? Apparently Duck Duck Go is a kids game. I think it’s a Search Engine. A bloody good one.