Unbundling, DuckDuckGo, and Native Advertising

Oct 30, 2014
3 minute read

I tweeted earlier, comparing DuckDuckGo to Google when searching for the term “Go 1.4 beta”, and how the first 50 results (I got bored scrolling and didn’t go further, no pun intended) on DuckDuckGo didn’t even have one mention of the language. Gabriel Weinberg being the good founder that he is (he seems very smart, and I highly respect what he’s doing) replied asking for more examples of things queries that he can investigate to improve, so I figured I’d use the opportunity to leverage my thoughts, instead of the discussing the symptoms.

DuckDuckGo performs better with general queries, because they have less personalized meaning. That’s not to say that it performs better than Google, but better relative to itself on user-specific queries. Over-generalizing, when a person is searching, they either want the general overview (e.g. a Wikipedia article, some solution to a problem they’re having, etc), or are looking for information about the query, in a manner specific to them.

When they look for something specific, searches have an implied meaning to the user who is searching. Intuitively Google performs better, garnering more accurate results inferring meaning from the rich history they have of you, through their various products. The main issue I have is that DuckDuckGo seems poor at inferring implied meaning with their lexical parsing of the terms. As an experiment, if you try in a fresh browser, not logged in, in private mode, Google will still hands down return better search results.

But let’s imagine a world though where Google is just another search engine, the best at searching general results, but not great at anything specific. That world is here now. I propose that the answer to Google’s search dominance isn’t building a better Google, it’s unbundling via specialized search engines. Pinterest, Stack Overflow, and others are better equipped to understand the meaning behind your searches, based on their knowledge of you, but more importantly the rest of their ecosystem.

The shift from desktop to mobile has amplified this behavior. A general search engine is not always available. It’s been interesting to watch people’s usage patterns change. They think of places like Tumblr as a search engine for creativity and exploration, something that Google is not. Twitter is the place to go if you need to know about something happening right now. Amazon is where you go to fill your consumer needs. Nowadays, for any of those, you can open an app, search, browse and discover, as opposed to having Google lead you to your content.

When you’re searching for how to decorate a home on Pinterest, they can quickly understand that the life event that has or will occur, or what you’re aspiring to. This is a prime opportunity to start marketing new blinds, cleaning supplies, whatever can help you in your journey.

A lot of this has been brewing in my head for a very long time, but recently I've started to feel like there’s more at play than just search, a vision of how we’ll use the internet soon. Not a world where ads aren’t annoying banners, but actually useful content. Currently you aren’t seeing that ad for new blinds because ads treat you like you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, with robotic reasons for what they choose to display. It’s rather difficult to capture your intent and translate it into a sale unless you’re explicitly looking to buy something (which is a place where Google excels). Leveraging that knowledge is the dream of direct ad marketers and brand advertisers, and could actually provide you with benefit in your life.


Search is hard, really hard.

A general search engine is the best answer we have for the internet, for now.

Ads are annoying, but they don’t have to be.

There’s so much more to be written, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

As always, I’d love to discuss.

Joe Fabisevich is an indie developer creating software at Red Panda Club Inc. while writing about design, development, and building a company. Formerly an iOS developer working on societal issues @Twitter. These days I don't tweet, but I do post on Threads.

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