Duck Duck Go, the In-N-Out Burger of Search Engines

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I briefly mentioned Duck Duck Go in my new Technologizer column for—which is mostly about Google’s bevy of new search features—but it deserves more attention. Its mascot may be a genial waterfowl, but the site is the biggest underdog in search: It’s operated by one guy, a Philadelphian named Gabriel Weinberg.

(MORE: Google Steps Up Its Search-Engine Game)

And strangely enough, when I think about DDG, I don’t just compare it to other search engines. It reminds me of In-N-Out Burger—which is quite a compliment in my book.

In case you don’t know about In-N-Out, it’s a burger chain here in California and a few other fortunate western states. It was founded in 1948 and basically, it’s what McDonalds was decades ago—a place with a minimalist menu (burgers, fries, shakes, soft drinks) of good, honest food. Even the signs look like the old 1950s “Golden Arches” McDonalds ones. It’s unapologetically basic and old-fashioned—and its fans are, indeed, fanatical.

Duck Duck Go? Same thing. It feels a lot like early Google, with a stripped-down home page. Just as In-N-Out doesn’t have lattes or Asian salads or sundaes or scrambled eggs, DDG doesn’t try to do news or blogs or books or images. There’s no auto-completion or instant results. It just offers core Web search—mostly the “ten blue links” approach that’s still really useful, no matter what its critics say.

DDG doesn’t offer Google’s “Search History” feature, which logs all your searches and lets you revisit them—because it doesn’t collect personal information, period. There’s no way to sign into it, and nobody’s going to figure out who you are based on what you searched for. There’s some advertising, but it’s minimal.

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As for the quality, I’m not saying that Weinberg has figured out a way to return more relevant results than Google’s mighty search team. But Duck Duck Go—which melds its own results with ones from Bing, Blekko, and other sources—is really good at bringing back useful sites. It all feels meaty and straightforward and filler-free…just like In-N-Out.

Whenever I write about search and don’t mention Duck Duck Go, I hear from its admirers. I haven’t abandoned Google for it myself. But every time I try it, I go away happy—which is yet another way it reminds me of In-N-Out.