Google v. DuckDuckGo

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Over the last few months I’ve been making changes — some big, some trivial — to my life. (I bought a new dining room table, for instance.) Part of it is that, after five years of retirement, five years of goofing off, I’m finding myself a little restless, so I’ve applied myself to making some changes.

One of those changes was finally getting a new laptop. The old Sony Vaio (running Windows Vista!) I’ve had since 2011 worked well enough (even with the squished bug) that I never pursued getting something else, although I always meant to. As I’ve said before, sometimes “well enough” works well enough for me.

This fall I bought a new (Dell XPS 15; Windows 10) laptop, and as part of the whole “changes” thing I’ve been trying DuckDuckGo for my searches rather than good ol’ Google

As of today, I think maybe I’m going to switch back to Google.

I’ve always had a policy that one bad meal doesn’t condemn a restaurant — one should always give them a second chance, because anyone can have an off day.

Likewise, I’m not going to chuck DuckDuckGo over one disappointing search result, although after a couple of months of using it, I have gotten a sense that it doesn’t always quite return what I’m searching for.

This morning, it really disappointed me. In fact, arguably it let me down completely. And — more to the point — Google didn’t.


There are certainly plenty of reasons to want to disentangle from Google.

They once had the corporate motto, “Do no evil,” which seems ironic (to put it mildly) these days. On the other hand, they’re not Facebook or Twitter, two platforms I despise and will have nothing to do with ever.

(I deleted my Facebook account many years ago and would urge you all to do the same. I never got into Twitter; never had an account; never saw the value.)

There have been some recent news articles about people who’ve tried to eliminate Google from their lives — there are alternative services outside that corporate ecosystem — but ended up returning because Google is just too damn good at what they do.

(It’s like how we have to hold our noses over Amazon Prime, another shit-covered tasty raisin.)

While I haven’t uploaded tons of photos to Google Photos, and I’ve never used Google Docs, I do use Google Maps (over Apple iMaps), I do enjoy Google Earth, I visit YouTube daily, and now I’m using YouTube TV to cut my cable.

So I’m pretty into Google Stuff is the thing. Aren’t we all.


And, honestly, I don’t see them as in the same evil league as Amazon or Facebook, and they seem to be more competent, more useful, at technology than Apple or Microsoft.

(Who’ve both disappointed me from their beginnings and who really disappoint me now given their longevity and experience — how can they still be that bad at what they do?)

((I’ve already written about how I hate Apple. One of these days there will be a matching post for Microsoft.))

So while I get that Google needs a comeuppance, they’re actually pretty far down the list of companies I’d excoriate given dictatorship powers. There are many, many other fish I’d fry first!


Anyway, here’s what happened that got my dander up:


As I age my brain is turning to Swiss cheese, and I sometimes have a hard time finding the word I mean for something. (Which, yes, is kind of terrifying for someone who sees his value as almost entirely intellectual.)

Sometimes I can’t think of a certain actor’s name, for instance.

I started noticing this a few years ago when I couldn’t recall Cameron Diaz’s name no matter how many times I looked it up. It was always ‘that actress who was in Something About Mary…’

I finally seemed to retrain other brain cells, and haven’t stumbled over her name since, but for months, my brain just couldn’t find that name. That’s happened with other words and names.

As I said, it’s a little scary.


Anyway, this morning I was thinking about something, don’t recall what, and my thinking brought me to the idea of those ancient Greek guys who argued for hire. They were logicians who used their skills in aid of arguments they didn’t themselves feel.

There’s a word for them, and it starts with ‘S’. What’s more, long ago I used to sometimes confuse it with another ancient Greek-derived word from philosophy that also starts with ‘S’ — that latter word meaning to think one’s own existence is the only true fact.

The confusion is deeply enough embedded in my mind that I often had to take a moment to mentally review the two words to make sure I was using the right one.

This morning I wanted to recall “sophist” (rather than “solipsist”), and I just couldn’t remember the term. Worse, I also couldn’t remember “solipsist” in contrast. Usually remembering one of them surfaces both.

But this time — nothing. For either word. All I could remember is that they started with ‘S’ (and involved ancient Greeks). I knew their meaning, but not their names!


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So I hit DuckDuckGo, which I’ve made my default search engine.

Several combinations and variations of “ancient Greeks” and “argued for hire” returned nothing. Not even close.

In frustration, I turned to Google.

And got it in one.

Click the image at the very top to see the Google results. Notice how “sophist” is mentioned in the first hit. And “Sophist,” itself, is the fourth hit.

That is exactly what I was looking for. Thank you, Google.

Then I went back to DuckDuckGo with the same search string that had returned exactly what I wanted from Google.

Click on the image here to see the first page of its search results and notice how there is no mention of sophist or sophistry anywhere on that page!

Down on the second page of its results one finds a link for “Was Socrates in Space?” (wait, what?) and a bit later a link for the “Antikythera mechanism” and then finally a link, “Sophists,” at Queensborough Community College.

Community College.

Further pages fare even worse in the DuckDuckGo search results.

Gotta call this one a complete fail.


Google’s top hit answered my question.

Also note Google wasn’t confused about my question.

It didn’t include “ancient greece who argued for hire” (which is a stunningly bad phrase).

It didn’t ask me if it should only show me the results I asked for.

It just got it right.


Given that the whole point of a search engine is to find the results you want as quickly and effortlessly as possible, this was a huge win (in my mind) for Google.

It fits in with a growing sense that DuckDuckGo isn’t quite on par.

I love having alternatives, and I won’t give up on DuckDuckGo just yet.

(I will say I don’t care for their name, and it’s a real pain in the ass to keep typing DuckDuckGo every time. Ugh. Google did release for them, so you can use that for a URL.)

DuckDuckGo is definitely quieter than Google. And the lack of tracking is nice sometimes, I guess. (It’s not something that concerns me much, to be honest. I don’t search for things I’m ashamed of.)

The flip side is that knowing you often does return better search results. The downside is missing things from inside the bubble.

There is also that this fail this morning is the first major fail, first major disappointment, in the months I’ve been using DuckDuckGo, and, as I said, one bad meal doesn’t condemn a restaurant for me.

I just found the size of this fail surprising and worth recording.

Stay searching, my friends.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

8 responses to “Google v. DuckDuckGo

  • Wyrd Smythe

    It being Chillaxmas, no one should take this overly seriously. Just an interesting observation, is all.

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    Can’t recall if I’ve heard of DuckDuckGo before. The name sounds vaguely familiar. With a name like that, you’d think it would stick like super glue, but then my own mental faculties have always been prone to dropping things.

    Join the dark side Wyrd! Use vendors while they’re useful, then drop them like a hot potato once they’re not. It makes you feel better about using one with unsavory practices, or well, it makes me feel better anyway 😀

    • Wyrd Smythe

      It’s Wiki page says it’s been around since 2008, so I’m a bit late to the party, too. I think I started seeing articles about it only a year (or two, tops) ago. Their whole deal is they don’t track you.

      One article I read compared Google search results to DuckDuckGo (ugh, I’m so sick of typing that; like some damn leet speek). Same search string used by different users. The Google results varied among the users; the DuckDuckGo results were the same among users.

      The question is how one feels about tailored results and what they imply. Google knows now that I prefer links to Wiki pages over most others, so those are almost always at the top. DuckDuckGo, I often need to scroll down. OTOH, no bubble filter, which can also be nice.

      I remember being a little shocked and put off by the “new-fangled” idea that employees shouldn’t bother with any sense of loyalty to their company, but should seek the best situation for themselves in all cases. I read an article recently that employees are now “ghosting” employers — just vanishing without word. Apparently this is the new normal.

      It’s true that companies have led the way both in terms of showing no loyalty and in ghosting applicants, so this can be seen as a leveling of the playing field.

      It just seems to level it down to me, but I’m old-fashioned and crave ideas such as loyalty, steadfastness, open-handed dealings. Modern life seems very self-centered, even narcissistic, to me.

      I saw this change in my company since I started in 1980. Back then they were well-known as an employee-friendly company, perhaps even too much so. Things changed with the economy, and really changed when the economy began to tank. They’re now far more the norm for companies these days, and it was a little sad to live through that change.

      These changes are part of what makes The Good Place such a fascinating show. A successful sitcom based on moral philosophy, which discusses it a lot, and which gets it right. (There’s one episode that brings the Trolly Problem to hysterical life!) The idea of doing the right thing and how things ought to be isn’t dead, yet!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      (Just to be clear, I’m not pointing any fingers here. I quite agree when it comes to vendors. They’d sell my soul in a second, so I feel no obligation of loyalty to them except in return for really good service.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I know what you mean about the bubble concerns. I periodically do searches in a Chrome incognito window (private browsing window in Firefox) to see if being out of my profile makes a difference. The results usually aren’t dramatically different, but there are differences. For example, my blog doesn’t come up in the results nearly as often in the incognito window. 😉

        I’m generally pretty loyal to people I know. If I actually had to work through people to do business with Google or Amazon, I would probably feel some loyalty toward those specific people. (I do know some people who work at Google, but they’re livelihood feels too disconnected from my usage decisions.)

        As it stands, any “loyalty” I have to these companies is really about convenience. I log into Chrome and so my bookmarks, saved passwords, and other stuff sync, which is very convenient. And I have a large book and video library with Amazon.

        I do have some warm feelings toward Amazon due to their disruption of calcified markets that really needed it, such as breaking the publishing cartels. But periodically being reminded that they’re a business aggressively looking after their own interests means I won’t hesitate to move on when they inevitably start to decline.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Amazon earned some very warm feelings with me. I joined back in the 1990s for the books, CDs, and DVDs, but over time used them less and less. (In part because who buys physical media that much anymore.) It had been quite a few years, talking twelve or more, since I last used them. Didn’t even know if my account still worked.

        I have a friend with a (sweetheart of a) Pit bull Terrier. For Christmas I though I’d get her some good Pit bull books. And Amazon seemed like the place to look for them. Plus I wanted to get Prime Video.

        My account was still active, so I logged in, got on Prime, and found three nice books to order. What I completely missed was that they had my old shipping address — my work. (It was easier to receive packages there.) I didn’t notice this until at least a day later when I happened to look closely at the shipping notice they sent.

        Totally my error, but I called hoping they could redirect the package in transit. Apparently they couldn’t; it was out of their hands.

        And yet they offered to refund the purchase anyway, which was pretty awesome. I had to re-order with the right address, but they did refund the other order (just saw it on my CC bill), and who knows what will happen to the books shipped to my company. I’m hoping they just return them to balance the scales.

        But that was pretty impressive customer service, and it way gave me warm fuzzies about Amazon.

        (Being cynical, I have wondered if the current protests and picketing at the local Amazon fulfillment center raised any “be nice to people from Minnesota” flags for call takers. It is possible Amazon is especially interested in earning good will here?)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I’ve always found them to be pretty good with returns. I’ve had to return various things over the years, and they usually made it as painless as possible.

        A couple of years ago I ordered a mattress through them. After a couple of weeks it was obvious to me it wasn’t going to work out. They gave me a full refund and told me to do whatever I wanted with the mattress. (I actually had hoped they’d send someone to take it off my hands. I had to call a local charity to come get it.)

        That said, I have heard the occasional horror story about them, but it seems like any large business will have at least some of those.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah, anyone can have a bad day!

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