DDG Interview: Part Two

TS: Over the years Google has made a few changes to tackle privacy concerns. Things like anonymizing data after a certain period, incognito mode in their Chrome browser, and signing up to the Do Not Track initiative. For people that do care about privacy, do you think they do enough?

Our argument has been we're producing better search results, actually. So, that's the real argument to use us. Instant answers, less spam, less clutter. Privacy has been a focus, but it's more of a motivator to get you to try us out than the reason to stay.

GW: I think all that is giving you a major fall sense of privacy. For example, in incognito mode they’re still logging all your searches per IP address. They’re tracking almost as much.

There are also some opt-outs that are only cookie based, so you try to opt out of something and then when you clear your cookies -- which most people do either automatically or every so often -- you're all of a sudden back to being tracked.

It's kind of built-in to their company DNA to have this default tracking. And I think it's great that they're trying to do something to help people get some privacy back, but it’s not much.

TS: What are other benefits to using DuckDuckGo?

GW: The main benefit you see right away is we try to get way better instant answers. We have a box that's above the links providing context and information about your search with zero clicks. And that's coming up more and more, we have a new open source platform, we're recruiting developers and our users are making plugins across all sorts of niche areas.

In the long term I think that is the main motivator. The other thing is you’ll notice that it's just a much cleaner experience. Google has lots of internal products they push in their search results, which gets very crowded and a little confusing. We're pretty clean in that regard.

We're also way more aggressive with spam. It's hard to tell immediately, but if you use our site for a few weeks, we think that you'll notice that you're getting less irrelevant results and not just ads on them.

TS: Is the community a big part of DuckDuckGo? Do you see active development from your users?

GW: The community has always been a big part of what we're doing. This whole notion of being able to code on DuckDuckGo is new, it's only a couple of months old, but I do think it's the future. It's at DuckDuckHack.com.

TS: You mentioned you are aggressive with filtering out spam and content farms. How does that work?

GW: It’s largely algorithmic and it’s largely pretty obvious. I’m not exactly sure why Google and Bing decide not to remove more of it. Some of the larger content farms we'll just remove outright, like Demand Media for example, which actually covers a large swab of content farms.

TS: Do you get many false positives?

GW: We’ve tried very hard not to get false positives. I happens sometimes when a domain that used to be part of a spam network becomes un-part. It takes a little while for us to get it out but we do get it out.

TS: Why do you think other major search engines are not doing more of this?

GW: A couple of reasons. There’s been a lot of the data that shows that initially when people click on content farm results, they actually like them because they often match their query exactly. But we believe that in the long run you won’t like them, because they're often low quality content. So, that’s a hard problem for search engines because a lot of the metrics they use for relevance show those results are very relevant, even though I think that they’re not. That’s kind of an internal problem and might be the reason for part of it. The other more cynical reason -- I’ve no idea if it’s true or not, and Google definitely says it’s not -- is that they make a lot of money off these sites. They’re all running AdSense generally, that sort of ads.

TS: DuckDuckGo reportedly made $115,000 in revenue last year. Where is this coming from?

GW: We have one ad that comes up every now and then in our site. We try to keep advertising very minimal, which is another difference that we have with other search engines. But we do have an ad that we syndicate from Microsoft adCenter. So we’re getting money from that and also from Amazon and eBay via affiliate sales.

TS: Are you close to being self-sustainable or do you rely more on VC?

The problem with general distribution in the search engine industry is that the big ones are very revenue-driven and we don’t have the revenue to offer them to get the default spots.

GW: We’re not far from being self-sustainable, but we did raise capital so we didn’t have to worry about that too much at this point. I don't worry too much about it. We raised money last year from Union Square Ventures, who funded Twitter, Foursquare, and Zynga. That was last October.

TS: I read you have a few partnerships in place to get DDG as a default or optional search engine in Linux distributions. Are any other partnerships in the pipeline?

GW: We have about 40 or so such partnerships to get DDG either as the default search engine or an option.

Partnerships are great. The problem with general distribution in the search engine industry is that the big ones are very revenue-driven and we don’t have the revenue to offer them to get the default spots. So we’re kind of locked up in that regard. More innovative partnerships we have, we partner with sources like Wolfram Alpha, for instance. We’d love to do more of that.

TS: Do you have a mobile strategy?

GW: We’ve had these mobile apps for a while and we’re in the process of completely renewing them -- and we hope that they’ll be more useful. That’s in the pipeline. We have this whole instant answers platform that we’re really trying to build out for the long term. That’s another big focus.

We also have an API that we use internally, that other people can use as well. But we’re now trying to take that to other places. So, we use it in our mobile apps, we’re also building browser extensions and things that you can install to kind of help you get these instant answers across the web.

TS: To close up, tell us about the technology you use on a daily basis. Operating systems you use, your desktop setup, computing on the go, smartphones and all that.

I wrote about this in detail at a site called usesthis.com. Essentially, I use a number of different computers. Here at the office I have a Windows 7 setup with three monitors. At home I have a similar three-monitor Windows setup, and I also have an iMac -- one in the basement and one on the first floor, actually. I have a Windows laptop and also an iPad. And an Android phone.

We would like to thank Gabriel for taking the time to answer these questions. Be sure to check out DuckDuckGo, a 'clean' search engine alternative that puts special emphasis on users' privacy.