The Little Search Engine That Could

Our portfolio company DuckDuckGo continues to impress me.

By offering one thing that other search engines don’t offer, a promise not to store your search history, DuckDuckGo has grown impressively, year after year, with no signs of that abating.


It may turn out that in an era of growing mistrust of companies and institutions, DuckDuckGo has a very attractive proposition for the market.

I’ve used DuckDuckGo as my default search engine for years now and though I will occasionally use Google for certain queries, DuckDuckGo gets it done for me the vast majority of the time.

If you want to change your default search engine to DuckDuckGo and see what it’s like to use a search engine that doesn’t track you, go to DuckDuckGo and click the “Install” button on the upper right.



Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    I wonder how much the ad targeting and re-targeting industry would suffer if users weren’t tracked anymore. Some of the tracking outcomes are freaky sometimes, especially as they manifest themselves on Facebook ads.

    1. awaldstein

      Hate me but when I want to find something I:-search something like “local handcrafted organic unisex PJs” on Google:-I get a load of crap from Google returned-Facebook ad engine integration picks it up and customizes and serves me an ad to some upstate craftsperson. (happened 6 times now cross a bunch of things i wanted)-I buy and am happyThis is funky but it works.

      1. William Mougayar

        You must be lucky because I get a lot more noise when retargeting hits me. Maybe my intent signals are not so obvious.

        1. awaldstein

          first off, facebook is all noise so more shit is simply that.the more specific with the clearest terms (i built companies on seo for years!) the better. Fair trade local PJs. raw wildflower honey from the Hudson Valley.sometimes it works especially as there are a number of innovative ecommerce local companies in the clothing business that just kick it–jeans, tees, boxes, socks–with a click from a facebook ad.kinda cool for a person that truly hates ads!Though–based on this post, I’m switching to try duck though really don’t care that much about the value prop personally. i’m the corner case most likely.

        2. Joe Cardillo

          Google has definitely refined its offerings to me over the years, but I suspect that in general retargeting ads is tricky because there’s a certain data threshold where you truly need AI capabilities that aren’t quite there yet to understand what someone might be interested in.I’m not sure the processing is that much more advanced than it was 3-4 years ago, though that is somewhat masked by the ability to quickly test more things across different platforms (programmatic ads etc). That sometimes looks like it’s more intelligent than it is.

          1. William Mougayar

            Intent is hard to pin down.

      2. Jess Bachman

        pics (of you in the organic unisex PJs) or it didn’t happen.

        1. awaldstein


        2. awaldstein

          Would a picture of me with a fro playing the dulcimer I built suffice?

          1. Jess Bachman

            I can make it work.

          2. panterosa,

            Then you would need Thing 1 all in onesie PJ’s!! So Dr. Seuss 60’s 🙂

      3. cavepainting

        Hi, unless you click on the links from google, some of whom may have integrated to facebook, you would not see retargeting ads. Or am I missing some other native integration between google search and facebook ?

        1. awaldstein

          I am quite ignorant of the nits of this.Actually where can you point me to lay out how this works logistically. And also cost wise.Would welcome a chance to educate myself on this.thanks

  2. redoak

    I believe ‘Event C’ was when it was offered as one of the default choices in iOS. Anecdotally – I know lot of people on iOS that have made the switchIt is remarkable how well it performs vs. Google.

    1. pointsnfigures

      I will have to retry. Good news is it’s easy to switch in your preferences.

  3. pointsnfigures

    I have tried it. The search hasn’t been as precise as other search engines. I have switched off Google since I like competition-use Bing. DDG needs more scale. To get it, more people have to use it! I agree with the premise of their business. I have started using Brave as a browser.Agree with Fred that the trend toward mistrust helps them grow.

    1. awaldstein

      I wonder though about the privacy fear. I and my bubble of network connections seem to not dwell on this as much as this post and Fried’s conclusions seem to think.if you use Facebook and everyone does, the you’ve bolted on real privacy concerns a long time ago.

      1. pointsnfigures

        Good point. There is; trying to replace Facebook in a way. (I am not an investor)

        1. Jess Bachman

          “All members commit an equal sum of money to participate in an Conversation. That money will be used to contribute ideas and reward others.”ಠ_ಠ

  4. Vendita Auto

    DDG was my protest vote & I stayed because it works well

  5. Humberto

    I use them mostly for their general simplicity and the power of command-line-esque tools.The privacy thing is an “odorless” advantage. Love to have it, but I really don’t have the everyday perspective on how much good it’s doing for me and the world.I hope they continue to improve results, sometimes (<5%) I still have to go to Google when I search for long sentences with lots of meaningful terms.

  6. Dale Allyn

    I switched to DDG again on my phone when Google announced it was no longer going to avoid personal identification in its data stores. I had used it before, but went back to Google for awhile.I must say, I do NOT like the DDG UI on my iPhone. It’s bland and difficult to notice where I’ve been (visited links) and where I might want to go. That is, low contrast design sucks–don’t follow Apple’s design flaw here. And the target URL in SERPs is too small/subtle.I still use Google on desktop (laptop and workstation), but would love to switch to DDG if the results improve and the UI gets better.Go Gabe!!!

    1. LE

      The desktop UI is actually one of the reasons that I don’t use DDG.

      1. Dale Allyn

        Others have told me the same. When Google recently changed their terms such they’ll no longer anonomize the data they collect, I suggested to my (grown) daughter that she might switch to DDG. She said “okay, maybe I will”. A week later I sent her a search results link (on DDG). Her only reply was “wow, ugly UI/UX. That needs work”. No comment on the content or the email message.Maybe I’ll write a Safari extension or simply load a custom style sheet. I wrote such an extension when Yahoo! added that ugly purple bar atop Flickr pages. Killed it. 😉

  7. Jess Bachman

    Yeah occasionally I will be watching some crime show and will google something like “can hydrogen cyanide capsules really cause heart attacks” and it always makes me think twice.

    1. LE

      This assumes that the government isn’t running websites that offer that information. A honeypot. So once you click there you are nabbed and logged. I don’t think they are for this type of query. But there have definitely been cases where they have done things like this (and actually taken over legitimate sites in order to compile info on who is using those sites). Also certain info remains on your computer as well. [1]And assumes that when you click to the site your local ISP isn’t tracking that visit or some device located between you and the web server.You can also do your search like this, appending a “-” and a string in quotes to clarify the reason for your search. Lots of work but in theory could actually be better in a way.can hydrogen cyanide capsules really cause heart attacks -“I am not going to kill anyone”[1] I am not talking about real risks because even when using google there would have to be a reason that that info was important for a government purpose meaning if your wife had actually died from hydrogen cynanide it could potentially be used against you. Or, even if not used against you the police knowing that would make you more of a suspect. Just like if your wife was killed and they found out you were using Ashley Madison or similar.

      1. Jess Bachman

        You’ve put a lot of thought into this @le_on_avc:disqus

        1. Mark Essel


    2. Twain Twain

      LOL! Well, apart from machine intelligence and art+design (obviously), I mostly google for food, movies and travel.Like this monster 23,000+ calories ice cream sundae!*

      1. Lawrence Brass

        When I see this type of human creations I sometimes think that we deserve being dominated by AI, robots and you know who. 🙂

        1. Twain Twain

          Teehee. For Harry Potter aficionados, “you know who” will henceforth be “He whose name cannot be spoken” and we’ll wait, in hope, for a set of twins (one male, one female like the Skywalkers) with lightning scars on their foreheads and Jedi mind tricks to trump him — do you see what I just did there, lol.Until then, we’ll search for cool stuff like this and go “Wow, humans are SO brilliant and witty and I’m in total awe”:*…I love the fact they use the term “coherence time” because coherency, unity and universality are factors I want my system to have.

  8. Mario Cantin

    It’s impressive, although it shouldn’t be surprising since it comes from the individual who literally wrote the book on traction, right?Personally, I’ve tried to use DDG but I’m guilty of being set in my ways. I’m too familiar with Google.Maybe I’ll reconsider and do a 180 and go as anonymous as possible: DDG on mobile, Thor at home, etc. I don’t tend to like half measures.

  9. Ken Greenwood

    Also impressed! Has been my default for more than a year and have had no issues.

  10. CJ

    The problem is that I’m so wedded to the Google ecosystem that my search results are just one small facet of the information available to them and anyone else. I’d have to break ranks with Google completely for this to make sense to me.

    1. Joe Cardillo

      That raises an interesting Q, and Microsoft has been moving pretty aggressively in that direction, too, with its suite of products.

  11. davidkirkpatrick

    What is the business model then?

  12. vankula

    So steady growth in the chart, but that’s still .2% of the search market. What’s the goal? To unseat Google or to just gain enough market share to be a viable company? With voice search and the AI devices out search is undergoing a massive shift. DDG will need to be 10x better at some point.

  13. Mac

    Trying to do that now but having no success. Just read that an Android tablet, using Chrome, requires installing another browser (I.e. Firefox) and setting DDG as the default search is the only option. Any other solutions? Thanks.

  14. Frank W. Miller

    I couldn’t help but notice, you seem to be investing in things that have anonymity as a basic element of their design. Anonymity breeds bad behavior. Bitcoin is the preferred currency for drug dealers, terrorists, and all sort of mal humans behavior. Any comment? I’m not sure I could sleep at night knowing these things foster and propagate bad things.

    1. falicon

      Bad people find ways to do bad things. It doesn’t mean the tools and the knowledge that the rest of us can also benefit from should be locked up and thrown away.As just one extreme example, the printed word and the printing press has allowed all sorts of bad people to do/cause bad things…but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the printed word does it?

      1. Frank W. Miller

        Your argument makes perfectly logical sense however, it discounts any moral obligations we address (or not) by the choices we make in our investments. Why would one choose to invest in something that obviously includes anonymity as a feature (typically cloaked in the rationale of freedom of some sort) when anonymity has been shown to foster all sorts of bad behavior over the course of time and there are so many other investments available?

      2. awaldstein

        Actually good people find a way to do good things. All systems need to be about building platforms for decent people and enough ways to restrict the scum so that it doesn’t ruin the experience for everyone.Managing retail against shoplifting and shrinkage is a prime example.

        1. falicon

          I love this thought. So much better than mine. I’m with you.

  15. falicon

    I love the story and the people behind DDG, but honestly I personally just don’t care at all about the product (and this comes from someone that has built a search engine product before).I have no idea where or who these users are that they keep gaining (guess that’s part of the point, eh?)…but it always surprises me to hear about it and makes me wonder what the *real* story behind it is. It’s not the tech since I believe they basically just white-label yahoo search; It’s not really the privacy angel when you think about @awaldstein point re facebook; It can’t really be the design or nice-to-have features as they really aren’t that differentiating; and I don’t think it’s some viral/network effect because outside of the early adopter, uber geeky devs, I don’t really hear anything about loving it or a user experience with it (honestly I don’t even know that many people that use it all; but that just might be my bubble)…but clearly there *is* something driving this continued growth…and I would *love* to know what I’m always missing in this story.Anyway – happy for Gabe and the team and hope someday I learn where my blind spot on this thing has been this whole time…

    1. LE

      Perhaps even a false sense of security. Like with firewalls using one may very well make you less likely to turn off ports that are open and should be closed ‘hey i’m protected’ in which case given other events you are actually less secure.And of course there is also ‘browser fingerprinting’ which can be used in theory for identification.

  16. LE

    Perhaps a marketing idea for duckduckgo would be to run ads on google for searches that would normally raise privacy concerns (see @jessbachman:disqus comment about hydrogen cyanide poisoning).

  17. VincentWright

    All other matters aside: Because of this particular post, Duck Duck Go, just helped me answer a question which my highly favored Google might have taken much longer to solve.I was just in a phone conversation introducing a prospective client to “Connecticut’s 9 Business Clusters”.That person, searched and found only 5 clusters|industries.Based upon years of having said “Connecticut’s *9* Business Clusters”, I re-stated with certainty that it was 9.Using the search phrase “DECD: Connecticut Industry Cluster Home Page” in both Google and in Duck Duck Go, this is the initial set of results:1.) Google =… and2.) Duck Duck Go =…While they may look pretty much the same, Duck Duck Go won for me because of its “More Results” (… ).With “More Results”, Duck Duck Go lead me to:… where, unfortunately for me and my self-imposed sense of authorities, it shows that, indeed, there are currently only FIVE focal industries for Connecticut …THANKS for helping me put just a wee bit more egg on my face, Fred! lol

  18. jason wright

    How does it make money, and where’s the exit opportunity?Crude questions I know, but relevant to a startup and an investor.Also, where did that name come from?

    1. fpnicolas

      Same here. Honestly, with no data mining or user profile, I hardly see how a web centric company like Duck Duck Go will make any sort of sense within 2-3 years.

  19. William Mougayar

    Related to this, I’m in Amsterdam and see the notice I get from Google regarding the privacy options and how to change them. European privacy laws are different than the US / Canada and other parts of the world. I wonder if DDG’s usage penetration is better in countries that have tighter privacy rules. https://uploads.disquscdn.chttps://uploads.disquscdn.c

    1. creative group

      William Mougayar:Have you eaten at The Rive at Professor Tulpplein 1, 1018 GX Amsterdam, Netherlands? Mediterranean

      1. William Mougayar

        No. we did other fine restaurants. Lots of choices. You liked that one?

        1. creative group

          William Mougayar:We did enjoy that offering. The strange thing regarding ordering the waiters didn’t offer prices until the check was delivered. Have you experienced that while in Amsterdam?We stayed at Hotel Okura Amsterdam while traveling. The Ciel Bleu Restaurant didn’t impress us. Our diet is non meat but the pescatarian did locate some options.

          1. William Mougayar

            No didn’t experience that except for after dinner drinks, but they seem to be fair with their pricing.

  20. mikenolan99

    Blip Enhance 2.0Now, instead of just serving up thousands of random cookies, posts, links and click-throughs, Blip Enhance 2.0 will allow you to specify personas.For example, “Pope Mode” spoofs the shopping and google habits of a truly saintly person. For those more eager to engage with law enforcement, try our new “Terrorist Mode” – that’s right folks! Now, for every funny cat video you watch on YouTube, our Blip Enhance technology will spoof internet history including thousands of bomb making videos, radical violence inciting text messages, and some truly suspicious eBay shopping cart sessions.Blip Enhance version 1.0 –

  21. jason wright

    How little is it compared to the monopoly search engine?

  22. Sriram Yadavalli

    Search is changing from being a gateway to the web to a destination with answers. Wondering how DuckDuckGo can handle this change

  23. LaMarEstaba

    I just changed my default search engine to DuckDuckGo. For a long while, it was Bing because of Bing Rewards, but I switched back to Google. I’m willing to give DDG a chance for a week or so to see if I like it better than I liked Bing.

  24. Alex Sebastian

    Duckduckgo traffic converts better than any other source for us. Maybe their users know what they want. I have always found that curious but also a bit frustrating because there is no documentation (that I am aware of) for how to improve rank

  25. Anne Libby

    OK, I’m with you politically — but I don’t trust the people I call the “good guys” with surveillance any more than I trust the other guys.

  26. Joe Cardillo

    There’s a pretty long history of FISA warrant fishing expeditions across multiple administrations that supports your point!