An earlier version of this story misspelled Dave Kerschner’s name. This is the corrected version.
The word Google has become synonymous with “search.” A Valley Forge man is trying to change that with a startup search engine that offers strict privacy protections and, he claims, less spam.
In 2006, Gabriel Weinberg sold his first startup, NamesDatabase, for $10 million. On the hunt for his next venture, he started developing a half dozen projects to see which would stick, including a social networking site for golfers and an online talk show.
He built his current project, search engine DuckDuckGo, over a few weekends.
“It actually was just a side project,” Weinberg said. “I had been using Google like everyone else, and noticed there was a lot of spam creeping up in it.”
Weinberg designed a search engine that aggressively blocks ad-packed results and taps into existing search networks to provide more no-click, instant answers for queries including definitions and math problems.
He launched the site in 2008, and since then DuckDuckGo has carved out a niche as a site fanatical about privacy rights. It does not store user’s search history or IP addresses. It doesn’t even have advertisers yet, because, Weinberg said, none will agree to the strict privacy conditions.
The site got national attention in January after Weinberg paid for a billboard in San Francisco that read “Google tracks you. We don’t.” He is careful to say he is not trying to overthrow the search giant–he wants to give people options, just like with web browsers.
“Internet Explorer was dominant for a long time,” Weinberg said. “It was synonymous with web browsing, and then all of a sudden Firefox came along and then Google Chrome came along a few years ago, and now it’s split and no one’s super dominant anymore. And I think search engines are headed that way.”
Search Engine Land, an industry blog, called DuckDuckGo different from other search startups that fizzle after much fanfare.
“It’s interesting to see how DuckDuckGo is actually increasing market share slowly, but at a very cheap method, by pinpointing the issues with Google and trying to get buzz around their search engine that way,” said the blog’s news editor Barry Schwartz. “Will they ultimately succeed? I really don’t know. I would be surprised to see them succeed.”
Schwartz says specialty search engines such as Yelp and Web MD can provide better results for targeted searches, for example, for local restaurants or medical advice. The problem, and the hurdle for DuckDuckGo, is getting people to think about those sites when they sit down to their computers.
“They pretty much think, I have a problem, I’m going to Google.com,” Schwartz said.
For now, the site is popular among tech professionals like Dave Kerschner, from Washington state. He switched to DuckDuckGo because it gave him less spam, but the privacy features are an added bonus.
“He has really no way to connect two searches together let alone build a creepy profile about what I’m searching for,” Kerschner said.
According to Weinberg, the search engine grew fivefold last year, and is up to about 6 million search queries a month. That is compared with Google’s 100 billion.