New browser provides alternative to Google
(Caption: The DuckDuckGo logo. Photo credit: duckduckgo.com.)
Tired of the expression "Google it!" when you ask someone a question? How about throwing back "DuckDuckGo it!" when someone asks you a question?
Somehow it doesn't have the cachet of the Google verb, does it. After all, even number two search service Bing seldom has its name used as a verb. Okay, I'll admit to having it used it a couple of times with students to see if it would elicit a response (it didn't).
A decade or two ago there was a lot of competition in the search business. Names like Excite, IceRocket, Yahoo AltaVista, and Lycos were widely recognized and among the most visited properties in those early web years.
Most of those ground-breaking search engines have faded from view, and yet there is apparently still a market for newcomers in a field pretty much dominated by Google and Microsoft.
Even Yahoo would like to have back some of its search mojo, and recent rumours suggest that it may bring search back in-house; for the past several years Yahoo searches have been powered by Microsoft's Bing technology.
Let's consider three alternatives to the big two, Google and Bing. By the way, as this column goes to press, Internet traffic data company comScore reports that Bing has hit an all-time high of just over 20 per cent of search traffic in the United States.
Google is down slightly to just over 64 per cent, Yahoo sits at just under 13 per cent, Ask Network at 1.8 per cent, and AOL (remember them?) at 1.1 per cent.
In 1995 we might have considered using Dogpile, http://dogpile.com, one of the first so-called meta-search engines, that is, a search service that pulls in data from many engines.
Fast-forward to 2015, and we find Dogpile is still in business. Unlike Google, which has maintained its Spartan main page in more or less the same form since inception, Dogpile actually has quite an attractive, and new, look nowadays. The service pulls in data from Google, Yahoo, and the Russian service Yandex.
Dogpile's results seek to draw the most relevant returns from those services, eliminating duplicates and generally cutting out results that are deemed irrelevant.
For a straight web search, unfortunately, Dogpile seems to devote much of the first screen to advertising links, hardly a strategy that will bring users back. Image-searching is much better, but don't expect to see any of the advanced filtering options (for instance, Creative Commons content) you find with a Google image search.
Another meta-search service is ixquick (all lower-case) based in New York and the Netherlands, at http://ixquick.com. This service is widely recognized for its privacy features, earning a European Union privacy seal award in 2008, the first search service to be so recognized.
A variant, Startpage.com, uses Google's search service but without passing any IP addressing or personally identifying information. Startpage.com is used as the default home page for the Tor browser, itself part of the bigger Tor project designed to facilitate anonymous communication.
Probably the best known of the current crop of alternative browsers is DuckDuckGo (at, of course, http://duckduckgo.com). The ad-supported service was already doing quite well just on word of mouth when the various Edward Snowden revelations regarding NSA eavesdropping and Internet traffic interception first surfaced.
Since then traffic has jumped dramatically to around 10 million daily uses. Although still a drop in the bucket compared to the two majors, Google did reportedly tell snooping antitrust investigators that it saw DuckDuckGo as a competitor.
As the company notes on its site, "Like anyone else, we will comply with court ordered legal requests. However, in our case, we don't expect any because there is nothing useful to give them since we don't collect any personal information."
That's exactly what has made DuckDuckGo interesting to those who've followed the Snowden developments.
Of course an engine isn't going to get repeat business if it doesn't handle its basic tasks well. On that front DuckDuckGo is clearly a success. Why not check it out, along with Dogpile and ixquick? Perhaps you too will have an occasion to say "DuckDuckGo it!"
Productivity tip of the week
Are you a Chrome user who keeps many tabs open? Why not pin your most used tabs to the top, left of your tabs bar? Simply right-click on the tabs you want pinned and select "Pin tab."
Not only will your most frequently used tabs be grouped together; you'll find that you can't accidentally close them.