Starting a new search engine in the 2010s sounds as absurd as coming out with a new word processor in the 1990s. But DuckDuckGo, which searches using primarily crowdsourced information, is a refreshing throwback to the days before Google got into the business of mining your online habits for Internet gold. The results are fast and relevant, and your data is not tracked.
DuckDuckGo borrows a lot of the look of Google: they even use the “Doodles” idea (today is an illustration of a Duck dressed as Enrico Caruso). Type in a search term, and it looks up an answer. Where they move away from Google is in how they deliver the results. At the top of the page in a box are the results from sites like Wikipedia and Wolfram Alpha. A Wikipedia result will give you a summary of the subject and a link to the wiki page. If you type in a question that Wolfram Alpha could answer, you get your answer in plain text, and a link to the WA source. Under that, you get the more or less standard version of search results.
If you want to restrict your search to a particular site (or even use another search engine), DuckDuckGo has a series of operators they call “!bangs” These work much like the “site:” and “Filetype:” commands you can use on Google.
What’s missing? DuckDuckGo isn’t as robust as the other search giants, and particularly obscure searches can yield only a handful of results (I run into this most often when looking for answers to specific tech problems). When this happens, DDG provides a link to search on Google for more results.
The other thing that’s missing is the tracking. DuckDuckGo doesn’t track your results, nor does it personalize them, nor does it have complicated privacy settings. There are no requests to join Google+, no notifications of who’s added you to a circle, no or any of the other myriad services the big G has evolved into.
I thought DuckDuckGo would be a novelty, but after using it for months I’ve found it to be an immensely satisfying experience. It reminds me of the early days of Google, back when it was the upstart company competing against megalithic companies that wanted to be your “portal” to every aspect of the web.