Tech dreamers with aspirations of creating a search engine to rival Google: take heart in the story of DuckDuckGo. Now celebrating its fourth birthday, this popular alternative engine is growing up before our very eyes.
This year has brought about changes and impressive growth for the search engine built by entrepreneur Gabriel Weinberg. He sold his last “baby” (The Names Database) in 2006 for a cool $10 million and used the proceeds to fund his new startup and launch on September 25, 2008. DuckDuckGo now serves between 1.3 million and 1.5 million direct queries per day, on average.
In December 2011, they were doing less than half that, with an average of 455,815 direct queries daily and just over 14 million for the entire month.
The first few months of 2012, in particular, were a time of great growth. In February, DuckDuckGo reached a million searches a day for the first time in its history, after a late-2011 injection of cash from investors Union Square Ventures. Weinberg attributes the steady uptick in 2012 usage to a visual refresh that made the site more sticky, coupled with increasing coverage by mainstream media.
Why the media interest in a search engine that, by all commonly used metrics, lives in the shadows of Goliaths like Google and Bing? DuckDuckGo’s founder is on a mission; it speaks to his experience that he foresaw privacy as a growing concern among search engine users when he hatched the idea.
DuckDuckGo is often called the anonymous search engine, thanks to Weinberg’s commitment to user privacy. He created DontTrack.us to educate users about search personalization and the myriad ways they are tracked around the web, even when logged out. DuckDuckGo promises, “We don’t filter bubble you.”
It’s a refreshing service for an increasing number of users, who find personalization based on search history and social media limiting, or even invasive. DuckDuckGo is the search engine people want to switch to on their own, Weinberg told us, and that’s been one of his greatest accomplishments.
So how do you build a search engine to rival Google? Very slowly and carefully.
Weinberg has been patient, gradually adding features and capabilities with feedback from users. He took on his first full-time employee, Caine Tighe, in 2010; Weinberg served as the only full-timer from development, through the launch, and into the first two years of its life.
DuckDuckGo explains how it generates its search results:
DuckDuckGo gets its results from over 50 sources, including DuckDuckBot (our own crawler), crowd-sourced sites (in our own index), Yahoo! (through BOSS) , embed.ly , WolframAlpha , EntireWeb , Bing , and Blekko . For any given search, there is usually a vertical search engine out there that does a better job at answering it than a general search engine. Our long-term goal is to get you information from that best source, ideally in instant answer form.
Riding on the positive feedback from users and an ever-growing community, Weinberg plans to build upon DuckDuckGo’s strengths and successes to date. “In the next few years, I hope we can build upon some of those focuses that we feel have contributed to that experience, namely better instant answers, less spam, a fun interface and real privacy,” he shared.
Weinberg continued, “The other parallel thread that I'm particularly proud of and hope to continue in a much bigger way is fostering the community around our service. That effort includes more open source, more distributed features and overall more engagement with people who use DuckDuckGo.”
DuckDuckGo won a number of awards last year, including a spot on TIME’s 50 Best Websites of 2011 list. It also took the About.com Best Search Engine of 2011 - Reader’s Choice, with 48 percent of the vote.
Are you using DuckDuckGo? Head on over and wish them a Happy Birthday!