Google is synonymous with web searching but one great alternative search engine is DuckDuckGo. When any company reaches a dominant position in the market, they can become more concerned about profits and revenue than about the security and privacy of their users.
They may also rest on their laurels and become less innovative than companies thinking up newer and better ways of doing things. The only real ‘advance’ we have seen from Google in recent years is the new autocomplete feature that tries to fill in your search as you type it.
Clever, yes, but many people find it confusing and slower to search. There is also increasing disquiet about the way that SEO companies are able to manipulate Google rankings to get their customers’ websites listed higher up. It could be argued that spending big money rather than creating great content drives the rankings of websites (making searches better for large companies but worse for the user).
One great alternative search engine is DuckDuckGo. I know, you’re thinking ‘what a stupid name for a search engine!’ but consider the names of Google, Bing, Yahoo and Alta Vista – pretty stupid names too, right?
DuckDuckGo (DDG) is a search engine that has a number of superb new features not found in major search engines:
1. WOT (Web Of Trust) website safety ratings are integrated directly into the search results for safer searching. WOT maintains a database of ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ websites based on other users’ experiences on the web and puts a simple red, yellow or green flag next to each search result as an indication of whether the site is viewed as dangerous, suspicious or safe.
We think WOT is the best safe searching tool around and, as we reported last week here, Facebook obviously agree with us as they have started to use WOT to screen website links on Facebook for possible dangerous (virus infested) sites.
2. Useless websites that contain no real content, just adverts, are banned from the DDG search results, making it easier to pick out genuinely useful results.
3. DDG does not collect or share personal information which better protects your privacy as your search history can’t be tied to you.
At other search engines, when you do a search and click on a link, your search terms are sent to that site you clicked on. E.g. when you search for something private, you are sharing that private search not only with your search engine, but also with all the sites that you clicked on (for that search). Also, when you visit any site, your computer automatically sends information about it to that site which can be used to identify you directly. When you do that supposedly ‘private’ search, not only do those other sites know your search terms, but they also know that you searched it!
DDG prevents this – when you click on a link in DDG, your request is redirected in such a way that it does not send your search terms to other sites. The other sites will know that you visited them, but they will not know what search you entered beforehand.
4. DDG includes ‘zero-click’ (instant) answers in a red box at the top of some searches e.g. searching for ‘age of Barack Obama’ immediately gives his exact age in years, months and days in a red box above the list of search results. You don’t have to trawl through lots of websites to find the answer (like you would have to if using Google).
Zero-click answers are most likely to be available for factual requests – E.g. the age of famous people, height of a mountain, population of a country etc which you would normally have to find by visiting and trawling through the websites found in the search results.
5. DDG search results are listed as ‘scrolling’ results in a single page which can be scrolled down much quicker than having to click through multiple pages with perhaps only 10 results on each page.
In Google, to see more than the first page of results you have to click ‘Next’ or click the page number you want to move to. Whereas DDG shows all results in a single page that continually extends downwards as you scroll down it – no need to click anything, just keep moving down the screen and it keeps displaying more and more results.
6. DDG has lots of optional settings that you can change to suit your preferences.
7. DDG offers an integrated add-on for the Firefox browser here which puts an encrypted (SSL) version of DDG in your search bar for even better security and privacy.
You can use DDG just like any other search engine – go to the DDG search page and search away. However, DDG has a lot more up its sleeve. If you click on ‘Settings’ on the DDG homepage you can see all the default settings used in searches. It is simple to change them and we would recommend that you at least change the Region (country you live in, default is US) if required to get better results for your country.
The only problem is that any changes you make to the settings page are stored in a cookie (text file) on your computer so, if you regularly clear/delete cookies, you will lose your changes.
To Make Settings Changes Permanent
You can do this by adding parameters (extra text) to the end of the DDG homepage address and bookmarking (making a favorite of) the page so you never have to change the settings again. The parameters can be found here and look daunting at first but aren’t once you understand how to use them – we will show you below how easy they are to configure (you only need to do this once).
Remember, you do not need to add anything unless you want to change some of the defaults.
- Let’s start with the basic homepage: http://duckduckgo.com/
- There is a special text to create an empty search box which is ?q= so we add it to the end and get http://duckduckgo.com/?q=
- The basic rule of all the rest of the settings is that you add an & followed by the name and value of the required setting listed in the Parameters page. As an example:
- To change the country (if not the default US) – let’s say we are in UK so we add &kl=uk-en to the end and now get http://duckduckgo.com/?q=&kl=uk-en
- To have just WOT icons not favicons (website logos) in our results we add &kf=w to the end and get http://duckduckgo.com/?q=&kl=uk-en&kf=w
- To turn off the sidebar at the right hand side of the search page we add &k4=-1 to the end and get http://duckduckgo.com/?q=&kl=uk-en&kf=w&k4=-1
- Following these rules we would add as many settings as we wanted to change from the defaults – we’ll stop our example here.
- Now we have finished, we just copy the last shortcut we created http://duckduckgo.com/?q=&kl=uk-en&kf=w&k4=-1 into our address bar and hit Enter to produce a customized blank search with our amended settings.
- Now we would bookmark/favorite that search page and use that bookmark/favorite for all our future searches with DDG – using the bookmark will automatically search with our customized requirements.
Thinking That Is Too Much Trouble?
Of course you can just use the standard DDG search page which works very well as it is but the extra settings offer you the ability to fine tune all your future searches just how you like them rather than use the default options.
Remember that you only have to do it once and that Google etc don’t even offer you most of these options – you’re stuck with whatever they want to give you! At least DDG gives you the ability to make such changes but you can just stick with the standard search page if you prefer.