Tag Archives: DuckDuckGo

Don’t expect advanced search features to exist forever

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the problems I was having with Google Verbatim (Google Verbatim on the way out?). This morning I ran through a checklist of commands that I am demonstrating in a webinar and it seems that Verbatim is back working as it should. Don’t hold your breath, though. Three times this year I have seen Google Verbatim disappear or do strange things and a couple weeks later return to normal. Verbatim may be here to stay or it may not, but you cannot depend on many advanced search commands to always work as you expect. So either learn different ways of making Google treat your search in the way you require or use a different search engine.

Unfortunately, disappearing or unreliable functionality is not confined to just Google. Bing used to have a very useful proximity command that allowed you to specify how close you wanted your words to be to one another. The “near:n”  operator is still listed in Bing’s list of advanced search commands and, although it seems to do something and reduce the number of results, it does not behave as described.

There is also the endangered list such as DuckDuckGo’s sort by date option. In fact all of DuckDuckGo’s web search options will probably soon change or disappear as it is currently powered by Yahoo! which has been bought by Verizon. Who will DuckDuckGo turn to if Verizon does combine Yahoo with AOL as has been stated in the press?

Get to know several different search tools really well and, for the ones that you use regularly, find out how they work and who provides the search results.


“Do not track” does not mean anonymous browsing

A question that I’m often asked is “do search engines that don’t track your search history also anonymize your IP address?” DuckDuckGo is the first search tool that often springs to mind with respect to “do not track”.  It does not store searches, web history or IP addresses when you use it to search. Also, it does not pass on the search terms you used to the sites that you visit. However, the sites that you visit will still be able to see your IP address.  See https://duckduckgo.com/privacy for further details.

Ixquick (http://ixquick.com/) and StartPage (http://startpage.com/) are similar but have an additional feature that gives you the option to display a page from the results list using a proxy. Run the search as normal and you’ll see the usual set of results. Next to each result you should see a “proxy” link. Click on that and you go through a proxy server making you invisible to the website you are visiting.


Any links that you subsequently click on and which are on the same site also go through the proxy. As soon as you follow any links that take you off that site then you are warned that you that you will be “unproxied”.


The disadvantages of using the proxy option are that it can be slower, some functions on the page may not work, and I have come across some pages that do not display at all.

Yet another irritating Google feature

There was a time when Google would aggregate pages from the same website in your search results. There might be just a couple of entries for the site with a “More from….” link next to the result.

Google More From

Alternatively you might see a mini sitemap:

Google result for UKeiG

This has the advantage that you are not swamped with results from a single website but are given instead a variety of options that might provide you with a better answer to your question.

Not any more.

You may have noticed that multiple entries from single websites have started appearing in your results. For example, rather than just one Wikipedia entry you see 4, 5, 6 or even more. On the other hand, you might not have noticed anything at all. Some of my colleagues are seeing this and some are not. Google tests new features and algorithms on a small percentage of its users to see how they react so new or test features are not seen by everyone (see How Google makes improvements to its search algorithm – YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5RZOU6vK4Q). As far as I’m concerned this particular “improvement” is a disaster.

I was running a very general search on the use of biofuels by public transport in the UK. I just want to get an idea of some of the issues that were being discussed before refining my search and went, by default, to Google. My first screen had nothing but results from the UK government Department for Transport (DfT).

Google search DFT

I scrolled down and saw more DfT pages. I scrolled down further and yet MORE dft pages. OK, Google, so dft.gov.uk is a good place for me to look at biofuels in public transport. I get the message. STOP! There were 27 DfT pages in total flooding the top of my results page, which I have set to display 100 entries at a time. Creeping in at number 28 came the Guardian with 5 results.

Google biofuels search Guardian

The Friends of the Earth website had 7 results, and then at last I started to see more variety in my results at around number 40, but still with a lot of repetition.


Google Biofuels

Google may think that the DfT is a very important source of information on the topic but I want to decide whether or not to explore more of a particular site. Spamming my results list annoys me and makes me want to go elsewhere. So I did.

DuckDuckGo (http://www.duckduckgo.com/) is my main Google alternative and it came up with a decent and varied set of results without repetition, hesitation or deviation.

Duck Duck Go biofuels search

Bing (http://www.bing.com/) and Yandex (http://www.yandex.com/) came up with similar, non-repetitive results.

Blekko (http://www.blekko.com/) came up with some interesting alternative pages for me to consider. These would not have been that useful to me in the earlier stages of my research but this test confirmed my feeling that Blekko is good at pulling up information that explores more than the mainstream issues.

Blekko results for test search


If you want to stay with Google how do you deal with multiple listings of sites? The most obvious approach would be to incorporate a ‘-site:’ command in your search, for example:

biofuels public transport -site:dft.gov.uk

If you are conducting in depth research and are likely to be running many variations on a search, incorporating ‘-site:’ each time can become a chore. Google’s own browser Chrome has a Personal Blocklist extension that enables you to block selected sites from results (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/nolijncfnkgaikbjbdaogikpmpbdcdef). Once installed a block link appears next to each entry in your results. Click on the link to block the site from all future results. A message appears at the bottom of searches that would normally contain pages from the blocked site warning you about exclusions.

Blocklist message

The ‘show’ link displays and highlights the previously blocked pages and offers an option to unblock them.

Unblock option

Neither the -site: option nor the Blocklist approach should be necessary. There was nothing wrong with the previous ways of offering additional pages from a site in search results. It wasn’t broke but Google did break it by trying to fix it. For me, there are now several Google alternatives that produce quality results and with less irritation. I shall be using them more in future.

Presentation: Search Turns Social – Resistance is Futile

The presentation I gave to CILIP in Hants & Wight yesterday (Search Turns Social – Resistance is Futile) is now available on authorSTREAM at http://www.authorstream.com/Presentation/karenblakeman-1392940-search-turns-social-resistance-futile/

It is also available on Slideshare at http://www.slideshare.net/KarenBlakeman/search-turns-social-resistance-is-futile and temporarily on my web site at http://www.rba.co.uk/as/

DuckDuckGo – silly name but a neat little search tool

Fed up with Google ignoring your search terms and giving you something completely different? Confused by irrelevant tweets and postings in your results? At the recent Internet Librarian International conference in London one of my fellow participants told me that he would not mind Google collecting his search and personal information if it gave him better results but he said that it seems to make them worse. Judging by the comments from some of the other conference goers Google’s attempts at personalisation and semantic search are not always delivering what the searcher needs. There are several steps you can take to try and depersonalise your results but even then Google can still mess up the search. Perhaps it’s time to seek out a different search tool.

Yahoo is now using Bing’s database and search results for web and image search so you might just as well go straight to Microsoft’s Bing (http://www.bing.com/). The trouble is that Bing is starting to behave like Google by messing with your search terms (Bing becomes more like Google and personalises http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2011/10/07/bing-becomes-more-like-google-and-personalises/). So what are the other serious alternatives? DuckDuckGo (http://duckduckgo.com/), also known as DDG, may have a silly name – it certainly put me off from using it for some time – but once you get over that it does have a lot going for it.

It has been around for a while and when it was launched one of its main selling points was that it does not track or share your search and web browsing habits, or try to personalise your results (see https://duckduckgo.com/privacy.html for more information). That’s all very well but how good are the results?

The home page is minimalist as are most search engine’s these days.


As soon as you start typing  you’ll notice that there are no suggestions appearing in a drop-down menu below the search box. Some may regard that as a good thing but I do occasionally find them helpful if I am researching an unfamiliar area. In compensation DDG offers “search ideas” on the results page that make up for the absence of suggestions and related search options. The results page is clean and uncluttered with search ideas on the right hand side of the screen. You add one of the “ideas” or terms to your search simply by clicking on it, but you cannot add more than one and the search ideas disappear from subsequent results pages. The only way I can see of adding more than one is to type them into the search box yourself.


When you hover over an entry a “more results” link appears that finds more articles from that site and if you look at the results URL you will see that the site: command is used. There is no link to an advanced search screen but there are an incredible number of what DDG calls “Goodies”. The ones that I have found to be most useful are:

  • site: followed by a domain name –  searches for your terms within the specified site
  • inbody:  followed by your search term – looks for your term in the main part of the page
  • intitle: followed by your search term –  looks for your term in the title of  the page
  • filetype: followed by a file extension – looks for specified file formats containing your terms
  • sort:date to sort by date (uses results from Blekko)
  • region: followed by the standard two letter country code e.g. regions:fr to boost pages from France

Then there are the DDG !bang commands (https://duckduckgo.com/bang.html). These automatically take you to other search engines, for example your search terms followed by !images runs an image search on Google and !videos will run a video search on Bing. Details on general syntax, keyboard short cuts and ‘tech goodies’ are at  http://duckduckgo.com/goodies.html  and  http://duckduckgo.com/tech.html. It all looks somewhat daunting but it is worth working your way through them and drawing up your own list of what you think you might use on a regular basis. If you still find it all a bit too much to take in then use the options under the arrow next to the search box at the top of the results page. This brings up a menu of some of the more popular types of searches.

DuckDuckGo Search options

For some searches DDG gives you a red box at the top of the results page containing “zero-click” information extracted from pages and DDG’s Topic Lists for example a possible answer to your question or the result of a conversion/calculation. For a search on Mapledurham watermill it gave me a description and link to Wikipedia along with links to DDG Topics Lists for Grade II* listed buildings in Oxfordshire and museums in Oxfordshire.

DuckDuckGo zero-click info


My request to convert euros into pounds came up with a calculation generated by Wolfram Alpha.

DuckDuckGo Wolfram Alpha results

Would I use DuckDuckGo as my default search tool? Difficult to say at this stage. I do miss Google’s time search option but DDG’s sort:date goes some way to offset that, and I regret to say that there are times when I miss Google’s localisation and personalisation. Looking for pubs or restaurants in Reading and Caversham is so much harder in DuckDuckGo. However, I am getting a feel for the type of searches that work well on DDG and for general web searching it is a good alternative to Google and Bing. It does not play around with your search terms, supports advanced search commands and most important of all it delivers relevant results, some of which are not always in Bing or Google.