Lycos.  Excite.  HotBot.  MSN.  Google.  AltaVista.  Yahoo!  Bing.  DogPile.  Ask Jeeves.  Cuil. Northern Light.  Magellan. These are just a few of the search engines that have come and gone, to various extents, since the modern Internet search culture began in the 1990s.  Searching online back then meant checking one or more search engines and hoping that plugging the query into enough search boxes would yield the good results that must exist in cyberspace.

Sometimes it felt like everything was available online except the one term you were looking for.  That one piece of trivia, the lyrics to that song you only partially knew, or that new gadget you heard reviewed somewhere but couldn’t remember exactly which source.  Instead of making the drive on the “information superhighway” a pleasant one, the Internet often felt like sitting in neutral on a hill, ready to move forward but worried about rolling back into endless unhelpful search results.

There were experiments with natural language search, symbols and connectors, and even human guided search, with experts curating the results somewhere in the ether.  Google changed all of this.  Page and Brin created a one-stop search engine stop that could find the tiny bits of data always missing from our lives.  Today most people use Google as the first and only stop.  Sometimes this is done out of habit, other times because it’s the default on the browser, but mostly because it usually provides the best results.  While Google is still a great resource, a couple search engines have been making a splash.  By taking a fresh look at what people want out of a search engine as the Internet matures, a good product could carve out a share of the search market by performing well in non-standard situations.

One way for a search engine to differentiate itself is the “Zero-click Info” method of Duck Duck Go, the playfully named search site.  Displaying snippets of information brings Google’s “I’m Feeling Lucky” to the logical conclusion: information from the search results displayed on the search page itself.  Rather than taking you to the top or  “best” result, Duck Duck Go looks at the Internet and puts together a brief summary, based on what could be the entire first page of search results on a traditional search engine.  For example, a search for Curtis Leskanic brings up a sentence from Wikipedia listing the MLB teams he pitched for, a link with a listing of famous people from his hometown, and links to players for the Salem Avalanche.  Below this box is a more traditional set of search results, each with a snippet of information like his career ERA, stats while with the Red Sox, and a description of his listing on IMDb as part of a commemorative DVD.

The other thing you will notice immediately: no ads above your search results.  This is the second part of Duck Duck Go’s efforts to differentiate themselves, focusing on privacy and customization.  They don’t save your search information so whatever you look for is private.  DDG also features a set of Goodies that let do everything from leveraging the scientific power of WolframAlpha in your searches to finding your IP address simply by typing “ip” into the search box to unleashing the database of everything Star Wars: Wookiepedia.

Is Duck Duck Go a replacement for everything you do on Google? No.  Is it another tool for finding the information you need?  Definitely.  Unlike the first round of search engine battles, Google and Duck Duck Go, are not simply clones but strength-vs-strength competitors, offering test cases for their use by empowering users with unique features and services.