A month or so back I went on one of my little quests to find a piece of software that I don’t currently have buttoned down. This time around I was not looking for another handy-dandy media related application nor another operating system. Instead, I was looking for a tool I use daily to find other tools, a Web search engine. I have, in the past, looked for “Google alternatives” but have always found myself back with the nearly unavoidable digital giant. This seemingly inevitable return was, at least partially, due to old habits, market penetration (it’s the default just about everywhere!), and also simply because the suite of tools the Google behemoth provides work well, integrate well, and help me to be more productive and have functionality that, in many cases, I can’t find anywhere else (Gmail, Google Docs, Google Voice, Google Chat).
In the past I have used Ask.com, Ixquick, Scroogle, and even DuckDuckGo.com, but none of them (at that point) ever stuck. Since none of those ever stuck, and since none of them are actually (purely) open source, I even looked at search engines that I could install and run from my own computer. At the time I only found one that really fit the bill, YaCy. Unfortunately, YaCy is written in Java (runs in a Java virtual machine, not something I prefer) and it just never was really functional, as it didn’t have the robust results that I needed. Thankfully though, some time has passed and there’s another open source option that I found in my most recent quest, Seeks. Seeks is written in C++ (it’s more memory efficient, and arguably, faster than Java) and it doesn’t try to re-invent the wheel at its first step.
Currently, Seeks acts as a meta search engine and allows you to pull in results, in your preferred priority, from your preferred search engines (Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Google, Ask, DuckDuckGo, you name it, if you can add it to Firefox, you can add it to Seeks!). In the long term Seeks plans to implement its own peer-based alternative to the third-party search engines to supplement the results it pulls from them. It’s already really nice to use, and eventually it looks like it’ll be a highly robust and flexible program that (even more so) prioritizes what “we the people” want in terms of usable search results instead of (just) what some commercial and proprietary algorithm and corporate filters decides we want.
Seeks’ interface is spot on for what we’ve come to expect from a search engine (Google’esque in other words). There are other privacy, anonymity, security and usability features that Seeks offers that are quite nice, and others that in the future should be even nicer. I wont go into them all here, as they’re a bit technical and many are not yet implemented. You can access the Seeks search engine portal without installing it and give it a whirl before spending the time to get it installed and configured. Installation is a cinch, but configuration can require some editing of text configuration files so it may be too much of a hassle for more novice users. For those that are interested though, here are a couple additional links that I found useful when setting up my installation (Manual / Adding Other Sources / Use the Portal Instead of the Proxy).
So, while I really enjoyed running Seeks once I had it configured to my taste, it does require having an always on system and that not only costs power, but if the system ever needs to be rebooted you lose access to your fancy, new, local meta-search engine. This in fact is what happened to me. I needed to setup a dual boot and I no longer had a system that was always on. At about this same time Linux Mint picked up Duck Duck Go as their sponsored search engine and so I decided to give Duck Duck Go another go.
Long story short, this time around it has stuck, and stuck well!
Duck Duck Go offers many of the benefits I found from using Seeks, without any of the hassle of maintaining my own installation. With that said, the main feature I like about Duck Duck Go is it’s “Zero-click Info Sources.” One search generally gets me both web results and the relevant Wikipedia entry, or if not the Wikipedia entry, the definition of whatever I’m searching for. Additionally, if I want to hop straight to the Wikipedia results I can make use of Duck Duck Go’s “bang” syntax and type in “!wiki SEARCHTERM”. The search will go through Duck Duck Go and then take me straight to Wikipedia.
Sure, you can add this to your browser directly, but having this “built in” to my main web search engine allows for a bit of simplification in my life, and reduces my initial configuration a bit.
Further, if you’re using the encrypted (HTTPS) version of Duck Duck Go then you also gain the benefits of the HTTPS Everywhere plug-in without having to ever install this plug-in! So, if you search via the encrypted Duck Duck Go, any sites that the HTTPS Everywhere plug-in knows about will be automatically loaded with their encrypted version (Wikipedia for one, along with hundreds if not thousands of others!). Again, this can be done directly in your browser, but again, it simplifies my configurations and streamlines my setups to have this built-in to my preferred search engine, and this is a good thing in my book!
Admittedly, all these features are nothing if the core Web search functionality is not there. Fortunately, it is. Duck Duck Go effectively serves as a meta-search engine using Google, Yahoo, Bing, and others to find the results, it then cleans out garbage results, ads, and serves them up to you nice and clean. The results are different from vanilla Google, but if anything I find them more useful. I especially like Duck Duck Go’s flagging of the official home pages as this is often the only thing I’m looking for.
That’s about all I have for Duck Duck Go. It is of course super private, but that’s just icing to be honest. It may have helped to get me in the door, and it’s a good selling point to those that are concerned with that, but Duck Duck Go didn’t make the seemingly common error of banking on privacy alone. It has the features and functionality to boot. It’s not just a filter for Google, it is successfully carving out its own niche by offering features and functions that the big boys are missing out on.
Don’t be surprised if Duck Duck Go is soon listed as Ainer.org’s featured search engine. Additionally, if you want to go one better (and have the hardware setup for it) definitely consider running Seeks as a front end to Duck Duck Go as well, as they need not be mutually exclusive!