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I don’t clearly remember life before Google search. Since the early 2000’s it has felt like an extension of my brain, always giving me exactly what I was looking for. For 15 years, I felt kind of weirded out whenever I saw anyone using a non-Google search engine.

Put simply, I was a Google fanboy. Three months after switching to DuckDuckGo, however, I’m not sure I’ll ever switch back.

Giving up Google wasn’t easy, but after forcing myself to try DuckDuckGo – mostly so I could write this article – there’s nothing I particularly miss about Google. There’s a lot I’ve grown to love about DuckDuckGo, though.

Sure: there’s the privacy concerns. Who hasn’t, in the post-Snowden age, felt weird about Google cataloging and monetizing individual users’ inner monologues? But uncomfortable as Google’s tracking is, three months after switching I’m sticking to DuckDuckGo because I like the features.

Where Google is trying to do everything for me, DuckDuckGo is willing to reward me for taking the time to learn its tricks.

!Bangs Are The !Bomb

Google wants you to search for something, see results and click something – possibly an ad. DuckDuckGo is willing to let you skip their results – and their ads– entirely if that’s what you want.

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The main way they do this is with Bangs, a confusingly named tool that lets you quickly search other websites from DuckDuckGo.

duckduckgo-bangs

Being able to open Wikipedia’s article about “Google”, for example, is just a matter of typing “!w Google”. Looking up “Netflix and Chill” on Urban Dictionary is similarly fast: “!u netflix and chill”. Just like learning to use keyboard shortcuts Keyboard Shortcuts You Aren't Using In Your Favourite Web Apps Keyboard Shortcuts You Aren't Using In Your Favourite Web Apps Keyboard shortcuts aren't just for desktop apps: your favourite web apps use them too. From Gmail to Trello, from Facebook to Twitter, learning keyboard shortcuts is the easiest way to do everything faster. Read More , this takes a bit of effort on the part of the user but saves a lot of time once you do.

You Can Customize Everything

DuckDuckGo doesn’t assume anything about you, and that includes how you’d like your search results to look and act. If you’d like to turn off the Instant Answers function, you can. If you’d like to change the fonts, background colors and units of measurements used, you can. You can even add favicons, and icons from Web of Trust Browse Safely With Your Own Internet Bodyguard Called WOT Browse Safely With Your Own Internet Bodyguard Called WOT Read More , to the search results – things you need browser extensions to add to Google.

duckduckgo-configure

You don’t even need an account to make these customizations, and you can create an anonymous bookmarklet to save them for use on other computers.

You Can Turn Off The Ads

Speaking of customization, there’s an option I’ve not seen any site provide

duckduckgo-ads

That’s right: DuckDuckGo is giving users the ability to turn off ads entirely, if they choose to, all while encouraging users to keep spreading the word about the site.

There Are Keyboard Shortcuts

You can browser DuckDuckGo’s search results completely with the keyboard: just use the arrow keys to switch between results, then hit Enter and the page opens. You can even hit CTL or CMD Enter to open a result in a new tab, in the background.

duckduckgo-keyboard-shortcuts

It’s a small thing to some, sure, but once you learn keyboard shortcuts everything gets faster 5 Tools to Finally Learn All Those Keyboard Shortcuts 5 Tools to Finally Learn All Those Keyboard Shortcuts Learn keyboard shortcuts. It sounds like a pain, but seriously, every new shortcut you learn will quickly become something you can't live without. Read More . It’s just the sort of power-user-friendly feature that DuckDuckGo specializes in.

Lots Of Great User-Made Instant Answers

We’ve talked about DuckDuckGo’s great features you won’t find on Google 6 Cool DuckDuckGo Features You Won't Find On Google 6 Cool DuckDuckGo Features You Won't Find On Google In a world ruled by Google, at least where search is concerned, it’s sometimes hard to imagine a worthy alternative. DuckDuckGo is one website that is trying to offer such an alternative. If you’ve been... Read More , and part of the magic here is the DuckDuckHack community. Volunteers help add all sorts of things to DuckDuckGo’s search results. For example: search for cheatsheets and you’ll often find them right away.

Search for a Twitter username and you’ll see the bio. Search for an alternative to a popular piece of software and you’ll see results from Alternative To.

alterantive-to-integration

There are all sorts of DuckDuckGo Instant Answers 10 Useful DuckDuckGo Instant Answers That Save You Time & A Few Clicks 10 Useful DuckDuckGo Instant Answers That Save You Time & A Few Clicks Instant Answers is a collection of DuckDuckGo goodies that potentially make your online search life somewhat easier. Here are ten from a huge list you can try out on this alternative search engine. Read More I won’t even get into here. Basically, if a site has an API, someone will find a way to add it to DuckDuckGo – a refreshing contrast to Google’s policy of only embedding other Google services.

Escaping The Filter Bubble

Google thinks knowing what sorts of things I’m likely to click on makes their search results better. For a long time I bought into this, even though the implications were uncomfortable.

I watched talks like these ones and thought the results were unfortunate but necessary if I want the best search results possible. Search is intensely personal, after all, so why wouldn’t monitoring make things better?

But since switching I’ve noticed more diversity in the sites that come up in searches – and I’ve enjoyed it. Just because I’ve found solutions for my problems on Reddit in the past doesn’t mean I need to see more Reddit in my results, but over time Google favored that and other sites for me. DuckDuckGo’s been providing a lot more diversity, showing me sites I rarely looked at before, and I really like it.

Basically, the Internet of filter bubbles is boring – and it’s nice to be out of that.

The Down Side: No Integration with Google Services

I’m not going to pretend that DuckDuckGo is better than Google in every way: it isn’t. Some of the main weaknesses have to do with a couple of features Google has integrated with its search results: Google News, Google Image Search and Google Maps. These services are all the best at what they do, and neither are integrated into DuckDuckGo’s search results for obvious reasons.

In both cases, I’ve resorted to using the above-mentioned !bang functionality: !gm is Google Maps, !gi is Google Image Search and !gn is Google News. It works, but I quite liked having these features integrated with my search. Still, there are enough pros to DuckDuckGo to make up for this major con.

DuckDuckGo is to Google as Twitter is to Facebook

I hardly log into Facebook these days – I simply don’t find it interesting. When I do log in, I jump away from the Timeline as quickly as possible, because it has usually got nothing to offer me. I prefer Twitter, because it gives me full control over what I see in my timeline: only the most recent posts from people I’ve specifically chosen to follow show up, and they show up in order. It took some time for me to build an interesting timeline, but it’s paid off.

The more I use DuckDuckGo, the more I realize it’s like Twitter: it’s the search engine that gives me what I ask for, instead of tracking my behavior and giving me what it thinks I want. Some people might prefer the track-and-cater-to-whims approach, but I think the give-the-user-what-they-ask-for approach is better.

See if you feel the same way: change your browser’s default search engine How To Change Your Browser's Default Search Engine How To Change Your Browser's Default Search Engine So, what are you searching with? Bing? Google? You might know how to use any search engine you want on the Internet, but do you know how to change the default search engine for your... Read More to DuckDuckGo, then force yourself to try it for a while. See if you like it. It won’t be for everyone, but I bet you’ll find at least a few features you’ll like.

Let me know your experiences in the comments below.

Image Credits:duckling outdoor running by Nikita Starichenko via Shutterstock

  1. Roger Oveur
    October 27, 2015 at 6:08 pm

    Also, ducks are cute, as seen in the photo. Google doesn't have a cute animal mascot. Android has a robot, but Android isn't Google and robots can be off-putting.

    I'm switching to Ubuntu Linux pretty soon, not only because Windows has gotten increasingly unmanageable and NSA-friendly, but because penguins and savanna wildlife.

    Image is everything. Google needs to find itself a Hoary Hedgehog or firefox (red panda) to be its spokesfauna.

  2. tcris52
    October 23, 2015 at 6:40 am

    Bangs look interesting, but with "6491 and counting" it is just as fast to go to the site. Is there a way to create a list of favorite bangs that will popup when you enter the ! ?

    • Justin Pot
      October 23, 2015 at 2:16 pm

      There is on the mobile app, but I can't find anything like that for the desktop.

  3. Joe Consultant
    October 23, 2015 at 6:21 am

    I've been using DDG for a couple of years and really like it. I set it to open links in a new tab.

    There are two things I really miss from Google (and go back to it to use them).

    1) The Advanced Search option of limiting results by time frame - to the last year ... I need that so I don't get technical answers which only apply to old software.

    2) The site: prefix tag which limits the search to the current website. I use that a lot to find things I know are there when I can't figure out how to navigate to them directly - like "contact us".

    • Justin Pot
      October 23, 2015 at 2:19 pm

      Setting it to open links in a new tab is smart, especially if you want to use the keyboard. Hmmm.

      For 2., couldn't you use site:makeuseof.com for example?

      • Joe Consultant
        October 28, 2015 at 7:23 pm

        Thanks! I didn't know that worked on DDG.

        I tend to do things in phases. I search and open several tabs and then go look at them.

  4. Etienne Mahler
    October 23, 2015 at 5:43 am

    Great article! It really makes me think about that. While online privacy is a very complex matter and not just solved by the search engine, I find the point about the filter bubble most interesting. Often I search for things that are beyond my daily interests...who knows, maybe that's gonna work out better with DDG.

    I will definitely try it out, at least for one week :)

    Thanks for your great article!

    • Justin Pot
      October 23, 2015 at 2:21 pm

      Yeah, filter bubbles in general are interesting because of the extent to which we've stopped noticing they're even there. Coming outside it can be rewarding.

  5. Nick Allon
    October 19, 2015 at 7:46 am

    1. !Bangs: you can just setup keywords in Chrome to search on any website.
    2. open https://www.google.com.ua/preferences
    other points are just not an advantage for me assuming that I get better search results with google.

    • Justin Pot
      October 19, 2015 at 1:36 pm

      1. Setting up keywords is nice, but !bangs don't need any setting up: they're just there, regardless of which browser you're using.
      2. I don't think Google offers quite the same level of customization, but I could be wrong.

      If you're getting better results with Google than stick to it, I'd say, find what works for you and use it. Just don't be blind to the fact that what's familar isn't always what's best.

    • Michael Tunnell
      October 19, 2015 at 8:05 pm

      Google search engine keywords dont work for syncing last I checked. Firefox has bookmark keywords that can accomplish this manually as well and the syncing works great. However, I use DDG as well because the !Bangs system is great.

  6. A41202813GMAIL ..
    October 18, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    Do An Experiment:

    A - Choose Any Forum On The Internet,

    B - Make A Comment There,

    C - After 2 Or 3 Days, Do A Search Of Your Comment, Included In Double Quotes, With All The Search Engines You Can Think About,

    D - Not Convinced ? - Go To ( A ), Again And Again And Again.

    GOOGLE Works Better Than All Other Search Engines Put Together, Period.

    GOOGLE FIBER WORLDWIDE, PLEASE !

  7. George Lowry
    October 17, 2015 at 4:13 pm

    I can remember dumping akebono for Alta Vista.
    DDG is my default search everywhere.

    The Android client serves up great discovery links.
    Perfect for airports and other waiting rooms.

    Calling '!' 'Bang' is an artifact from Visual Basic for Access. The late, unlamented VBA, that is.
    http://bytecomb.com/the-bang-exclamation-operator-in-vba/

    • George Lowry
      October 17, 2015 at 4:14 pm

      And Thanks for a great article!

  8. Maryon Jeane
    October 17, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    I'm going to try DDG again, using it exclusively for a week. I agree with all your points and I do get slightly worried by the knowledge that Google is tracking all the time and skewing the searches - particularly as many of my searches are on behalf of clients and so skew future search results in ways which aren't useful to me. I can't now remember why I originally stopped using DDG but I definitely - reading your article - wasn't making the best use of it. Here goes...

  9. Peter Buyze
    October 16, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    Good article, thank you. I don't like Google's tracking & recording behaviour but still felt compleeled to use its search capabilities, so I have been using StartPage for quite some time now. SP channels your search through Google but without any identifying info & mixed with other people's search queries. You get Google results back, so that's cool.
    However, reading your article about DDG I think I'll have another look at it :-)

    • Justin Pot
      October 16, 2015 at 10:58 pm

      Let me know how it works out for you, okay?

      • Peter Buyze
        October 27, 2015 at 4:21 pm

        Justin, I tried DDG & really like it. However, there is 1 big drawback: you can't filter search results by date. With Google apparently you can, though I have not figured out how.
        With StartPage it is simple: on the left of the search results you can opt for any time, plast 24 hours, past week, past month, past year. I have switched back to StartPage & will only go back to DDG when time filtering is possible. This has been a request by DDG users for 4 years, initially they said they would implement it but so far it has not happened. Pity.

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