I've been around for a while... which is to say that I'm old. I remember when AltaVista was a solid, popular search engine, Yahoo! was mostly a directory, and a small little company called Google was feeding fallback results to Yahoo! when the latter needed some extra pages. Windows Live Search and the live.com domain was pretty good at one point before Microsoft switched it to Bing, which powered just about everything, and had some good news apps until Microsoft decided, once again, to rebrand some things, and brought MSN out of the storage chest.

The point is, I've spent a lot of time online, and a lot of time searching. I've done a lot of research for college, graduate school, and even my own personal research. As a programmer for almost two decades, I've had to search for the answers to a lot of hard problems. I've spent extended time using Google, Yahoo!, Bing, and even Ask.com in order to find the best experience with the best results.

A few years back, I switched exclusively to Bing. Microsoft was doing a good job reinventing their search, the results were turning up more relevant that Google for me, and the daily home page image was a nice touch. The addition of news stories started to clutter things up a bit, but it was still a solid engine.

The problem with big box search engines (namely Google and Bing) is that their revenue comes from advertising, but they have affiliate advertising all over the Internet. Too often I've searched for something only to have it immediately show up as an ad on Facebook, or some news site. Of course they're tracking you, and of course their sharing data, but how much, and does it compromise you as an individual? How much have you become a commodity?

I've spent a lot of time recently turning off location awareness on almost every app that I feel doesn't really need it. I've been limiting what I share on social networks, and adjusting my privacy settings accordingly. I know how to track people. I'm a computer scientist--a programmer. As a result, I've been very conscious about what I share that is potentially traceable. I used to not care, but I have children now. That changes your perspective.

The first time I ever heard of DuckDuckGo was actually on television (or in a movie--I can't remember exactly). I thought it was a made up search engine for the entertainment industry so that they weren't promoting Google or Bing. When I found out it was real, and started to check it out, I was pleasantly surprised.

DuckDuckGo states:

What you search for is your own business and we’d like to keep it that way. That’s why we don’t collect any personal information and therefore, have none to share.

Any browser that values privacy, personal data, and limited/no tracking is worth checking out. This week, I decided to finally take the plunge, and switched to using DuckDuckGo exclusively at home and at work.

Any time you switch search engines your immediate worry is that the results will suffer. DuckDuckGo uses a hybrid search approach where, in addition to their core technology, they source information from various search API's and informational web sites. My searching didn't miss a beat. In addition, DuckDuckGo's instant answers feature, which pulls data from Wikipedia, Yahoo Answers, Quora, etc., is an awesome touch that gives the immediate gratification that many Google and Bing users would expect, but with somewhat greater breathe in my opinion.

Another nice touch by DuckDuckGo is the "bang" actions that allow you to search directly on another web site. For example, !a Soren Kierkegaard will return an Amazon search for the works of Soren Kierkegaard, while !w Soren Kierkegaard will return the Wikipedia page.

DuckDuckGo's claim to fame is its respect for privacy, and as such, it even has a Tor hidden service for inbound connections and anonymous searching. Their reputation was good enough that when Tor's default Disconnect.me search engine lost its ability to use Google search results, Tor had them funnel searches through DuckDuckGo.

Between the privacy and security measures that DuckDuckGo is attempting to implement, and the ability to not have your search results following you around, it's a search engine worth using--whether you use it as your primary search engine, or a secondary one when you want to be a little more anonymous. For now, I'm sticking with it as my primary search engine as long as the results continue to hold up. I recommend you give a week's worth of a try to see what you think.

(Photo by Tim Green)