Falling Out Of Love With Google Search

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Monday, 12th March 2012

Back when there really weren't any good search engines, Google won me over with its commitment to relevant search results. You could just type stuff in and links to the answers would just appear before your eyes. If you had a particularly tricky search, you could use a few tricks here and there to refine the links Google fetched for you. In some cases, you could even discover that Google has a sense of humour when you performed particular search queries, like 'recursion' or 'tilt'. When Google added adverts, they made sure that you knew which results were adverts and which were real organic results - so you never felt cheated by the fact that some people were paying to appear in your search results.

But nothing ever lasts forever and over time, little niggles piled on top of each other to eventually become a noticeable big niggle.

Google got a bit bigger. Then bigger still. I didn't need to tell people about Google any more because everyone was using them. People didn't even search any longer, they Googled. Then Google started to swallow or destroy some of the exciting projects I was following. If people had an idea and saw Google was moving into similar territory, they would just give up. They couldn't afford to invest in the idea when Google could steal the market from under them without even noticing. By this time, Google was a HGV and small projects were just rabbits. Google didn't even feel the bump. In some cases, they were saving us from inferior services. Google Mail set a new standard for web-mail accounts. It offered more features and hundreds of times more storage, it also stepped into the breach when other services like Ask Jeeves ditched their web-mail offering. On the flip side, Google destroyed a web-font project I was eagerly waiting for when it launched the Google Web Fonts Directory. You might say that this was just healthy competition, but despite shoulder-barging the font-project into the canal, the Google Web Fonts Directory took ages to actually launch more than a handful of font designs - so we didn't actually end up with more choice as consumers, we end up with eight choices from one directory. (The Google Web Fonts Directory is much larger now, but rather happily Font Squirrel is doing really well in this sector).

Another twinge was caused by the instant search. In itself, instant search is a good idea. Conceptually, you start typing and results appear instantly and are refined each time you hit a key. You don't even need to press "go" or hit the return key. In real life, the page flashes away as you type and you don't really look down at the results until you've finished. I wouldn't go so far as calling this annoying. It is just a little niggle.

The next concern was when everybody started to try and get really personal with advertising. You search for a "Nikon 50mm" and get haunted by "Cheap Nikon 50mm" adverts for the rest of your life. In this case, I would go as far as calling this annoying. In particular, it is annoying because having performed my search and purchased the camera-lens in question, the last thing I want or need is a "Nikon 50mm" lens. Asides from what feels like a massive invasion of privacy (with adverts and data being collected and used across thousands of websites and from your GMail account), it is just plain stupid. We don't want adverts to tell us about what we already known we want, or what we have actually already purchased. We want adverts to inform us about products and services that we hadn't thought about.

And so the little annoyances built-up over time.

The final straw came when Google started correcting me on my search terms. It seemed to stop saying "hey, you searched for Hoover, did you mean hover?" and started over-ruling my instructions. It might just be that Google doesn't know what a Hoover is, or it may be that it knows that way more people search for "hover" than "hoover". Whatever the reason, the information I was looking for got one more click away from me. I'll happily make that additional click if I type something in wrong and thank Google for noticing my spelling error; but when I tell it I want to search for "hoover" or "odford" or whatever, I don't want to be over-ruled.

The problem was, there wasn't really an alternative.

I tried Bing for a while. It was okay. It was like Google. It gave me some different results, but in terms of typing stuff in and being presented with results and adverts it wasn't really the change I was looking for. I didn't want a search engine like Google any longer. I wanted to get that feeling I got when I originally found Google and it just felt different to everything else.

And then Duck Duck Go appeared.

Duck Duck Go was launched as a search engine that respects your privacy. They don't track you (and display "targeted and relevant adverts on their own and partner websites") and they don't bubble you (change your search results based on other stuff you've done) - so if you use Duck Duck Go you get nice honest search results and if you look up the correct spelling of "arsehole", you don't get bombarded with Germaloids adverts.

On top of this, Duck Duck Go has some pretty cool and innovative features. Instead of including some common sources of information in the normal results, it has a special box for the likes of Wikipedia and Stack Overflow. At a time when Wikipedia appears on the first page of results for 99% of Google searches, it is nice to have it and websites like it pulled out of the normal results and into a special box.

The other feature I use all the time is the bang-search. I know that I'm looking for an answer to a question I have on jQuery, I just search with a bang and go direct to results on the official jQuery website. It also has a plethora of handy conversion and calculation searches all listed out on a cheat sheet page.

I am really pleased with Duck Duck Go. If I need information, I now "duck-it" every time. I feel better for not being monitored or targeted and I'm enjoying the cool features built into the search. I hope that Duck Duck Go and I are for keeps.

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