Google (GOOG) might utterly dominate the search engine business (it conducts nearly 7 out of every 10 searches), but privacy advocates have long preferred a relatively little-known site called DuckDuckGo, which is something of an, err, odd duck.
Its logo is a cartoon duck, and it has traditionally not competed on search-result quality, but on privacy. The tagline under the search box on DuckDuckGo's homepage claims it's "The search engine that doesn't track you."
That means that when you use DuckDuckGo, your browser doesn't record information about who you are or what you're looking for. The advantages extend far beyond keeping the National Security Agency from snooping on your online activities.
The lack of tracking data means programmatic advertising won't follow you around the Internet based on searches you perform in DuckDuckGo, and you won't be trapped in a "filter bubble": Search results won't be tailored to you based on your search history, so you'll see a potentially broader and more balanced set of results.
The reason DuckDuckGo hasn't gotten a lot of traction with the general Internet population has less to do with the quality of the engine's results, which are generally pretty good and almost on par with Google and Microsoft's (MSFT) Bing -- and more to do with the goofy name and logo -- and its retro interface.
While the name and logo might not be going anywhere, a new update to the site means DuckDuckGo is finally pretty even with Google on the user experience front. While the new design will eventually become the default experience, for now you can try it out at next.duckduckgo.com.
The new DuckDuckGo brings a lot of the search engine's power to the forefront with a functional and attractive design. Now, searches that yield quick answers -- like those for the weather or facts that can be scraped from Wolfram Alpha -- are delivered in elegant boxes at the top of the window, very similar to Google's cards.
Image, video and news searches, which used to require knowledge of DuckDuckGo's geeky "bang" searches (adding shortcuts with exclamation points to the end of searches) are now available with a click and appear in a pretty carousel at the top of the screen.
Not only is the search experience improved, but the homepage got its own facelift, including a flyout menu in the upper-right corner that provides access to settings, privacy information and more.
Of course, DuckDuckGo hasn't added anything that's truly unique -- it has nothing you can't find at Google or Bing. But the update means you no longer feel like you're sacrificing usability or aesthetics just to get a more private search experience.
Indeed, the changes are excellent, and you should try out the new DuckDuckGo. You might just find it can replace Google the majority of the time.
Photo courtesy of DuckDuckGo