Impressions after using DuckDuckGo for several months

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I had been using DuckDuckGo on and off for some time prior to the NSA scandal and the revelations made by Edward Snowden. After those events, however, I decided to become a full time user and made it my default search engine in my desktop computer and mobile phone.

My impressions are similar to most recent reports you can read online. I think it’s true that search results quality is worse than what you get from Google. This is not related to personalized searches. I’m never logged in on Google and cookies are purged when I close the browser window, so indeed it seems DuckDuckGo’s search and page ranking algorithms are simply not as good.

But this doesn’t mean they’re bad. Using DDG or Google makes almost no difference for most searches I perform daily (and my impression is this would apply to most searches by most people). In them, I know what I’m looking for, it’s something specific and I’m just trying to find the corresponding URL or domain name without having to memorize it.

In more abstract searches for information on a topic, when Wikipedia falls short, or when trying to locate a very specific and slightly obscure page, a search on Google gives usually, but not always, more interesting results than DDG. While planning to write this post in the last few days, I payed special attention to find the perfect example to use in this case. To DDG’s credit, it hasn’t been easy. A testimony that DDG’s search results are not that different.

Search results are volatile data, but let’s say yesterday I was searching for a webpage I read sometime ago that explained how miles per gallon is a worse fuel economy metric than gallons per 100 miles, or similar, because in some cases the miles per gallon metric is not intuitive and can make you take wrong mathematical choices. I used the search terms “problems with the miles per gallon metric” (unquoted). Google results were mostly interesting and, in fact, the first two were:

I don’t remember if any of those was the one I read long ago, but both include the kind of example I was looking for. Without much effort on my side, Google nailed it. A search with those same terms on DDG gives currently much less useful results. In the first page, only this result is interesting:

And it appears as the 10th item (after 9 items and one additional sponsored link at the top) buried among other noninteresting results. Google also reacts much faster to current events and trending topics, and provides better results in their localized versions (in general, I use when I want to search in Spanish).

Still, like I said, DDG has improved much in recent times and it’s good enough for daily use. I’m not planning to change search engines in the foreseeable future, and it has some nice features even Google lacks.

For quick searches, the embedded Wikipedia or StackOverflow results are very convenient. The “official site” tag seen next to some items makes them easy to locate and reinforces trust from the user. Its “bang search” is a very nice feature. When DDG fails, I only have to prepend “!g” to the search terms to be redirected to Google, among other very interesting keywords.

Finally, I was also used to the unit conversion and calculator feature from Google but nowadays DDG is able to perform those too, by embedding results from Wolfram Alpha. In this aspect and as of the time I’m writing this, I have to admit the Wolfram Alpha embedded search result is a bit too small and may take a second or two to appear in the page, which could be improved but, again, good enough.

I don’t think I’m less productive by using DDG instead of Google, so I recommend you to give it a try. Congratulations to the DDG team and good luck. DDG is a project that needs to exist in our current society.

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