Google alternatives: using DuckDuckGo for search


Search is synonymous with Google. For most of us, when we search, we google and we don’t give a second thought to trying or using any other search engine. Why would we? Google is just fine isn’t it? I’ve been online since about 1998. In those days, I used to read (paper) computer magazines to get the low down on all the best tech products and services to use. I seem to remember them recommending Alta Vista for search when I started, then I think around 1999-2000, Google became the recommended search engine and I switched to that and honestly I haven’t used any other search engine since then.

Why not just use Google?

Frankly, since the introduction of Google+, I’m a little worried that Google is heading to take over almost everything we do online, and collect masses amounts of data on us in the process. Apart from that, I believe Google needs competition to keep it on its toes and the competition needs to be encouraged especially if it’s providing a good service. So I thought it was time to look around and see if anyone else comes close to Google in search. Spurred on by very encouraging recent articles on DuckDuckGo by Rich Menga at PCMech, and Scott Nesbitt at Make Tech Easier, I decided to shun Google search for a couple of weeks and use only DuckDuckGo just to see if it was a viable long term search alternative for me.

So how does DuckDuckGo shape up?

Well DuckDuckGo is actually very good. I like the cleaner, uncluttered interface and better privacy. Definitions when presented are pulled from Wikipedia and shown in a red box at the top and the search results overall are fine for me and I’m sure for most people. Specialist searches are a little different though and actually very good. Here’s my experience:

I’m actually a freelance editor and often have to research published medical reference details. Authors tend to get the detail wrong here or miss out stuff so it’s left to the editor to sort out/check publication details like page numbers, volume number, year of publication. Very often I would just paste the article title into Google and it would come up with the full reference details usually on the first page of results – PubMed is a great source for these details. But when I tried this procedure in DuckDuckGo, I couldn’t get the details I wanted in the results – because in a general search, DuckDuckGo doesn’t go to PubMed. But then I discovered what they call !Bangs, or specialized site searches. There are a whole bunch of these specialized searches as listed here, including PubMed and to launch this, you just type!pubmed along with your article title and it usually pulls up the result. Not strictly true as it actually launches the link and opens PubMed with the result in the DuckDuckGo window. Which brings me to my next point.


Settings are great in DuckDuckGo and it’s very customisable. You can elect to have results open in a new window, which is what I prefer. But in the case of bangs discussed above, they open in the same window. A click on the back arrow is needed to get back to DuckDuckGo. So I sent feedback to DuckDuckGo about this last weekend – and got a reply that same weekend – something you wouldn’t get from Google I might add – you can’t actually contact them! They responded:

…there is a strong case that a bang command is an external page by definition and should open in a new window. I’ve added it as a defect in our bug tracking software so I should get to it sometime soon!

Very impressed. Another minor change I made was to turn off highlighted (and clickable) results when you move over them. I often like to copy text straight from the results page and you can’t do this with highlighted results – once you click on the text it follows the link. To turn this off, go to Settings, Color Settings, and turn Highlight from Green (default) to off. Incidentally, once you have DuckDuckGo set up the way you want it, you can save the URL parameters so it will always load that way. I have DuckDuckGo loading in a tab when I start Google Chrome and I’ve added those URL parameters. You can add your own customized parameters in Chrome. Go to Wrench, Options and add it to your start up tabs.

Do you use a Google alternative for search? Bing, Blekko? Have you tried anything else? Or are you happy to stick with Google for the long haul? Drop a comment below.

Incidentally, if you are interested in reading about other Google alternatives, not just in search, here’s a great article on Techie Buzz.

2 Responses

  1. Yoav Says:

    What’s the point of not returning results from a site like pubmed? How many other sites are not included in search results and why?

    Why would a search engine want to hide popular (or any ) results?

    I tried using duck duck and was very unimpressed – perhaps this is why.

  2. Dana Says:

    Just tried DuckDuckGo and am very happy with it. Thanks for the heads up!

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