Choosing between AOL, Yahoo, or Alta Vista kind of just depended on your mood that day. And then came Google, and a clear search engine king was crowned.
The ubiquity of Google search today is astounding. In September, Google powered over 86% of desktop searches worldwide, according to Statista.
However, with personal privacy becoming more of a concern - especially the Google+ fiasco that led the company to shut down its less-than-beloved social network - perhaps search is headed for a shakeup.
If any privacy-focused search engine is going to rival Google Search, it might be DuckDuckGo. With 800 million daily direct queries as of this September (up 33% from last year), the search engine named after the children's game appears to be gaining some real traction. In fact, it's a profitable business.
Beyond not tracking my every move (DuckDuckGo doesn't collect or share your search history or clicks), there were some other aspects I learned to appreciate like less advertisements, comparable search results and an easy-to-navigate settings page that allowed me to freely switch between themes.
I tested DuckDuckGo for one week, completely locking myself out of Google search to see if I could survive on this more privacy-focused alternative.
Here's what I found.
Privacy is the main selling point for DuckDuckGo. The Google search alternative doesn't track your search history, the time or location of your search, or your internet address - a stark contrast.
However, I didn't feel the privacy features at work a ton in my day-to-day usage of the product. Typically, privacy isn't an issue until it's an issue; it's not something you care about when you're just trying to find information and get stuff done.
After checking out this feature a couple of times, though, I forgot it was there and wasn't thinking about how many trackers were being blocked for every website I visited.
As TechJunkie reports, though, having "true" privacy online is almost impossible. Even though search engines like DuckDuckGo help keep things private on your computer, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can still access your search history.
If complete privacy is of utmost importance to your browsing on the web, TechJunkie suggests the Tor browser.
When it comes to the quality of search results, I was pleasantly surprised not to notice a significant difference when I switched to DuckDuckGo.
Type in your keywords, and you'll get the results from the sources that you'd expect when coming from Google. This isn't the kind of experience where suddenly the world does not make sense.
There is a trust factor when changing search engines that is difficult to get over. Even if you are served articles from news sources you'd expect, are you getting all the articles that Google would give you? Are you getting the best?
At certain moments, while researching a topic, I used Google to double check the articles DuckDuckGo had provided. I didn't find a noticeable difference. I just needed to be sure.
I did find myself missing a couple of features from Google Search that I wasn't aware I relied upon so heavily.
DuckDuckGo made it super easy to change from light to dark mode and completely customise my entire colour scheme.
It also offers customisation features like "safe browsing" options, custom fonts, font sizes, different languages, and more. Many of these options are also found in Google, but the "settings" tab within DuckDuckGo was actually a fun and pleasant experience.
The same cannot be said for the settings design within Google, which can be confusing at best.
Some buzz has been generated by DuckDuckGo's "bang" feature - essentially keyboard shortcuts to top sites. Search for "a!" and it takes takes you to Amazon, while "yt!" takes you to YouTube.
I didn't find bangs particularly useful, as saved searches from your drop down accomplish a similar, quick result without having to remember the actual shortcut. (Simply typing in "f" takes most of the world to directly to Facebook.)
Unfortunately, I didn't find myself in any timed sprints or rap battles with my colleagues this week to fully utilize these features.
I did survive the work week using DuckDuckGo.
The overall search capabilities are comparable to Google, and the clean design with pared-down ads actually felt refreshing.
But did I feel that much more secure or private? Maybe a little.
Call me crazy, but there are just little things about Google that hold me back from making the switch to DuckDuckGo permanent.
They're mostly design choices that Google has made - like the "Top Stories" thumbnails at the top for news and surfacing videos even when you didn't ask for them. DuckDuck Go only returns videos when you search specifically for videos.
Perhaps there's also a superstitious aspect at play that supersedes any specific features or privacy protection that DuckDuckGo can provide. Am I really getting the best search results possible when using any other provider besides Google?
I couldn't shake this question all week. And I imagine you won't be able to either.
Also from Business Insider South Africa: