I have been using DuckDuckGo full time for about two months now, and I would like to share my experience with you. Like other software professionals, I’m a heavy user of search engines and am on the computer all day Mon-Fri for work, in addition to several hours on weekends. I am not an employee of DuckDuckGo, nor am I endorsed or in any way affiliated with DuckDuckGo or any of its employees.
I chose to use DuckDuckGo because at the time, I was using Google Search and I was not happy with a few things. Although I will list them here – note that these are personal reasons, and I do not expect or encourage you to take my word for it. If you decide to give this experiment a try, come up with your own reasons:
- Google Search result quality seems to have degraded over time. Sometimes, my entire first screen of Google results are irrelevant ads, come from content farms, or other low-quality websites that I am not interested in
- Google profiles users based on history, what it perceives as likes and dislikes, and so on… It displays “customized/personalized” results to searches based on these profiles. I didn’t just hear about this, I witnessed it many times when I searched for the same terms on other peoples’ devices than I did my own. Many times, I found this to be detrimental to the quality of the search results and not what I wanted. To be clear, this point has nothing to do with privacy, but rather skewed results.
- Google is trying to be too much, and I don’t really want all that. I don’t want a docs, spreadsheets, files, chats, email, contacts, phones, websites, clouds, etc… solution (mostly because there are much better solutions in all of those categories); I want a search engine. I’ve never been a fan of brands and products that try to do everything, because they don’t do anything all that well. I used to detail cars for a hobby, and a legendary instructor always told me, “if you want the best shine, never use the wash-n-wax-n-polish type of products. They do it all, but they do nothing well. The real pros use each product separately, and put their heart and soul into every step.”
- The privacy aspect – I prefer to support an organization who has established a quality search engine that is NOT based on profiling its users, tracking their every move, and following them around the web everywhere.
- The environmental aspect – Here’s a little experiment: Go to any Google service (especially Gmail), and press F12, or otherwise navigate to your web browser’s DevTools, and view the “network” tab. You will see that Google makes hundreds and thousands of requests when you are barely doing anything on the web page, or actually doing nothing at all. Likewise, the services use a decent amount of RAM and CPU for what they offer. This not only has performance impacts, it actually is bad for the environment – the harder my CPU works, the more power it uses. The more requests my network interface sends out, the more CPUs on the other end are working. FireFox (and I assume Chrome but haven’t checked) even has an “energy impact” column in their “Task Manager” which literally shows this. I did this test on DuckDuckGo and I was pleasantly surprised at how much smaller of a footprint it left.
What did I do?
Using my 1337 tech skills, I blocked Google Search from all of my machines for the last couple months, and forced myself to use DuckDuckGo instead. “Force” here was not because I had a bad experience, but because I was just literally in the habit of always going to Google. I also downloaded DuckDuckGo’s mobile web browser and installed the Firefox plugin which helps block tracking cookies and gives scores to various websites.
What did I observe?
- Less obstruction between me and the results I was seeking. DuckDuckGo did not cover my entire first screen with irrelevant ads, forcing me to scroll around looking for non-sponsored content, or having ads with bogus keywords made by competitors of what I was searching for to steal their spot up top.
- No noticed content farm results – DuckDuckGo disallows so-called “content farm” results. These are essentially low-quality results designed to get users to click them for ad revenue purposes
- Less biased results – you see what I see rather than what the website thinks you want to see, or what the site thinks that I want to see. This phenomenon is also referred to as “filter bubble“.
- Less distracting experience – When I went to search, I just got results… I didn’t get chat boxes, emails, random news, notifications, and other things vying for my attention, distracting me from the task at hand. DuckDuckGo feels “lighter” to me in this regard.
- Surprisingly useful search results – Many consider Google to be the “gold standard” search engine. I guess initially, I didn’t know what to expect, as everyone has had me to believe that Google is the only option – the almighty hundreds of thousands of Google engineers are the only ones who could possibly do search properly… Needless to say, I was quite surprised at how well DuckDuckGo did in this category.
- A useful and privacy-oriented mobile browser as well as Firefox plugin. I may write another article on these, as the focal point here is on search.
To be honest, I had tried DuckDuckGo a few years back and its search results left some to be desired; at that time, in my opinion, it was not ready to be used full-time for my purposes. However, this time around, DuckDuckGo is a very effective search engine with a great cause. It is clear that DuckDuckGo has gone through temendous efforts to improve search user experience, results quality, and so on. The ! bang commands are also a nice touch that I use often. These allow you to search other websites directly, rather than doing an indirect search and then clicking. Try searching “!w LinkedIn” for example.
I do not work for DuckDuckGo nor can I speak for them – but from what I can see, and based on material I’ve read on their website – I really appreciate their cause. Specifically, they are proving that it is possible to run a search engine (web browser, and likely to be other service) business without profiling, tracking, and following users everywhere. You see, the thing that is mind-boggling about the current state of affairs on the web is that Google and a few other large companies decided that the best way to make money was to use tracking cookies and other means to follow users around the web to “personalize experiences”. Everyone just copied this without understanding that there are in fact other, perhaps even more effective ways to make money without all the tracking, extra CPU cycles, hundreds of requests, etc…
This has become carried away, as noted by the filter bubble problem, creation of GDPR, California Consumer Privacy Act, and so on… Those were significant advancements that lead to businesses being required to share all data collected and allow its deletion. It also made me realize that sorry, all of that data is not necessary for me to get the search results that I want! That’s the sorta lie behind many of the other modern services – they act like all of this gigabytes and gigabytes of data collection of the users’ every move is necessary for them to run a quality service. I don’t necessarily think that it occurs maliciously, but I believe that people sincerely believe it is a necessary evil. DuckDuckGo is showing that is not true; That it is still possible to earn ad revenue and provide a quality search service (that is actually better in many ways) but still respect people’s personal information and privacy online.
They are demonstrating that trapping people into an echo chamber so all they have access to are opinions that agree with their own, or what some algorithm perceives to be their own is NOT required and NOT desired. They are demonstrating that a search service can be run in year 2022 that allows the user to sift through the results and make their own conclusions. Lastly, they are demonstrating that a company can earn tremendous profits and be successful while doing it.
In conclusion, the main reason why I tried DuckDuckGo, although I certainly am interested in privacy, was actually search result quality; I noticed issues with my current solution that I did not like. I was pleasantly surprised with the results that I’ve gotten with DuckDuckGo.
To be transparent, there were I think two times during the last two months where I had to temporarily remove my filter and use Google. These two times were when I was searching for information on specific people – Google is great at tracking people, so they were the clear winner. In fact, the listings that I saw did not have the folks I was trying to find information about anywhere. Not sure DuckDuckGo will ever compete there, nor that them or their users would ever want them to… But so far, for everything else, I would never turn back.