Sunday, June 28, 2020

Do The Duck

Late last night I popped onto Google to look something up. When I clicked in the search field, before I even had time to start typing, this is what I got:

"Trending Searches" have never been displayed that way before. Not in the twenty-plus years I've used Google as my main search engine. That's a good thing in my book.

I don't want to know what the current hot topics are for the same reason I don't watch, read or listen to broadcast news reports other than at times of my choosing. It's also the main reason I'm not on Twitter. If I want to know something I go look for it when I want to know it. If I'm not actively looking I don't, at that particular moment, want to know, not even if it turns out I would be interested if I was told. Also, as must be obvious from those results, the chances of any current search trend being of the slightest interest to me is vanishingly small.

I wasted the best part of an hour trying to find out how to remove this "feature". Apparently the mobile app has a toggle for it but the desktop version doesn't.

Some search results seemed to suggest it might be cause by malware but since all of those were trying to persuade me download proprietary malware removal apps I was not convinced. I think it's just Google trying to be "helpful". Other results gave the impression it might be browser-related but I tested it in several and it was the same in all of them.

After a lot of huffing and puffing it occured to me that I could solve the problem by simply removing Google. It's not like there aren't other search engines. I used to use several , before Google ate them all. I still miss Netscape.

Only last week Microsoft force-uploaded the new Edge onto my desktop and tried to make me take a tour. I promptly removed it from the Start menu, where it had also installed itself, but I left the icon on the desktop. An option, then, but it would be a little ironic to bin Google for making high-handed changes without asking and then reward Microsoft for doing the same.

Yahoo is hideous and annoying and all of the other minor players I can think of are not much better. Search engine designers seem to have learned their aesthetics from the back of a cornflake packet.

Then I remembered that strangely-named source that turns up on my analytics reports: DuckDuckGo. It pays to have a ridiculous name, sometimes.

About all I knew was that DDG is all about hyper-private searching. I've never really cared much about what data internet companies gather about me, particularly from my search history. If someone in a bunker or a boardroom somewhere wants to trawl through three decades of my searches for obscure tweepop bands, minor MMORPGs and cancelled sitcoms, they're welcome.

I thought I'd give it a go just to see what it was like. And what it was like was clean. I realy love a minimalist look on a web page. The less the better. This is just a white screen, a cheerful cartoon duck and a box to type in. Perfect.

I typed something in to see what the results would look like. They looked clean, too. I like the font. I like the layout. I like the colors and the options and the whole look and feel.

It's not just about looks, of course, even if looks are extremely important. Not much point having the best-looking, most aesthetically pleasing search engine out there if your results are inaccurate or incomplete. I searched around and read a few reviews. Mostly they focused on the privacy thing but they were promising. Still, I thought I'd better test it.

The EQII results looked pretty much like I'd expect but I thought I'd give it the duck a bit of a workout. How about an indie band with a weird name that sounds like I'm searching for something else?

The differences between DuckDuckGo and Google were intriguing. Google did suggest the right result with fewer letters in the search line but they both needed the third word before what I wanted popped. And the suggestions are quite distinct.

It feels ironic that DDG would offer two links to the Google-owned YouTube while Google doesn't mention it at all. Also, Google seems to be a lot more interested in the "sound" part of the query while DDG goes for the "scary bear".

But they both put the correct result in second place (first place when the whole name is in), which is all I need to know. And DDG gets bonus points for getting "scary bear online game" onto the list.

That just left the issue of all the other Google features I use almost every day, like Gmail and Maps. I've had Google Search as my homepage in Firefox for years and I'm used to having them right there in front of me. But I also have a column of bookmarks to the left of the screen, as extensive as my blog roll. I just bookmarked the google stuff I use and moved it to the top of the list.

And so far I like the new set up a lot. Better than the old one, in fact. I'm sure the increased privacy's nice but I'm much more impressed by how comfortable the whole thing feels and how quickly I've settled into it.

Google has a predilection for fiddling with things that are already quite as good as they need to be. Blogger is getting a facelift this month. Sometimes it feels as though we just have to put up with it but mostly we don't. It's just too much bother to change.

In a way I'm quite glad this happened because I suspect the new regime will suit me even better than the old. I don't think it will be enough to push me into the much bigger effort needed to move the blog to another platform, though.

And I do quite like the new version of Blogger, as it happens. It's pretty clean.


  1. You made me realise that I haven't actually been to the actual Google homepage in ages. I just type my searches straight into the URL bar, or if I open a new tab in Firefox it does have a dedicated Google search bar there next to things like links to recently visited sites, but that doesn't suggest trending searches or anything.

    1. I could just have typed in the URL bar, I guess. I do that occasionally but it's so small and fiddly I find it quite annoying. The big attraction of having Google as the home page is that it was almost an empty screen. The DDG one is as well. If I could literally have a blank screen that, when you started typing, just accepted the input, that would be perfect.

  2. I switched to Duck Duck Go some time ago. Sometimes it has a few blind spots. For instance search for arcdps. So sometimes it helps to check google too.

    OpenStreetMap is a good Google Maps replacement. And for navigation you can use OsmAnd+ on Android wich uses OpenStreetMap Data. The user interface is a little strange, but the maps have much more details than the google maps. Especially more trails in offroad areas. At least where i live. Oh and it works completely offline.

    1. Oh, offline mapping that actually works is something I've been looking for for a long time. Thanks for the tip. Of course, right now I'm not going anywhere so it's a bit of a moot point, but if we ever get back to having holidays away from home I'll give that one a try.

  3. I've been using DDG for years now and it's pretty good, but I end up using Google for about 20% of my searches anyhow. It's not that good at finding video game related resuslts, at least for me. And because I live in a small town in a desolate part of the USA, it has trouble bringing me accurate listings for companies and events around me.

    Everything else is fine.

    There's also a quick shortcut in DDG if it's not finding what you want. If you add 'g!' at the beginning it will instead search Google for you. So I feel like there really isn't any downside to make DDG my default search engine.

    1. That's a good tip. Thanks!

      Since I don't have any issues with Google other than not wanting to have to see a list of what other people are searching for every time I look up anything, I'm fine with swapping back if I'm ot getting the search results I want on a particular query. I guess you'd never really know what search results you were missing so long as you got something that looked like what you wanted, anyway.


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