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What the heck is DuckDuckGo and why is it growing in popularity?

The search engine that focuses on privacy has slowly built up a reputation by word of mouth.

Image: DuckDuckGo

PRIVACY ISSUES HAVE been around long before the internet even existed and with more services using data, the issue is bigger than ever.

Yet among this talk, one search engine has managed to carve out a reputation among this called DuckDuckGo, but what is it exactly?

So what is DuckDuckGo?

It’s a search engine that focuses on privacy. Your searches aren’t saved or kept on a database, all results are neutral and it does not use your IP address, user information. It does use cookies but only when required (using !bang search to display the most frequent requests)

While other services like Google allow you to log into an account and bring up more personalised results, DuckDuckGo shows the same results for everyone for any term.

While it was founded in 2008, it’s only in the last two years that it’s started to gain traction. Currently, the site gets more than 10 million searches per day, compared to one million back in February 2012.

This is tiny in comparison to other rivals like Google (it processes one billion searches a day), but it’s slowly growing.

DuckDuckGo CEO with Logo DuckDuckGo founder and CEO Gabriel Weinberg. Source: DuckDuckGo

What’s with the growth in popularity?

A couple of reasons. The first is the growing concerns with privacy among the general public. The revelations from the likes of Edward Snowden and other privacy advocates has meant trust in these services have diminished.

When NSA surveillance became news two years ago, the site grew by 600% (There’s a caveat to that, but we’ll get to it later).

images.duckduckgo Source: DuckDuckGo

The other reason is because Apple adopted it as one of the search engines to choose from for its browser Safari. This was partly due to growing tensions with Google and later because of its shift towards privacy and security, something documented by its more recent developer keynotes and events.

Mozilla did the same with Firefox but neither offer it as their default search engine. Apple sets Bing as its default while Firefox uses Yahoo!.

How does it find its results?

It searches a key number of sites instead of trying to index each one across the web. It takes information from sources like Wikipedia and Wolfram|Alpha allows suggestions from a wider community. The latter helps with improvements to the service and offers suggestions for better instant answers.

How does it make any money then?

It’s twofold. It’s a mixture of sponsored links which are syndicated through Yahoo while the other is affiliated revenue through ecommerce websites like Amazon and eBay. When someone visits those sites through DuckDuckGo and makes a purchase, it gets a small commission.

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It also accepts donations through Flattr but sponsored links and commissions make up the bulk of its revenue.

Apart from privacy, is there anything else of note?

Probably the handiest feature is bangs which allow you to search a specific site. It’s done by adding a ‘!’ before any major site as a way of speeding up searches and works better in practice. The other is instant answers as mentioned earlier which relies on public contributions to improve.

DuckDuckGo ! Source: DuckDuckGo

Should the likes of Google, Bing, and Yahoo be concerned?

For now, not really. In Europe alone, Google has an overwhelming advantage over its rivals – it holds a 91.6% market share while its closest rival Bing has 3.13% – and DuckDuckGo doesn’t even register on it. The stats are roughly the same worldwide as well and even for the smaller search engines like Bing, it still has a lot of catching up to do.

Yet its growth has been slow but steady and it’s amassed a dedicated community who care about how their data is being used. While it’s not going to make everyone migrate from Google or other search engines, it offers an alternative and that’s more important.

Read: How to get your computer to shut up when it starts playing videos you don’t want to watch >

Read: Here’s why the Internet of Things is going to change everything you do >

About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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