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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.
The main way they do this is with Bangs, a confusingly named tool that lets you quickly search other websites from DuckDuckGo.
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, 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, to the search results – things you need browser extensions to add to Google.
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
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.
It’s a small thing to some, sure, but once you learn keyboard shortcuts everything gets faster. 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, 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.
— DuckDuckGo (@duckduckgo) September 28, 2015
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.
There are all sorts of DuckDuckGo Instant Answers 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 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