Gabriel Weinberg works from his basement and wants to beat Google. At search. He’s the founder of DuckDuckGo, a search engine startup.Most people would find this risible, but we think Weinberg might be up to something because of a few reasons:
- Spam is becoming a bigger and bigger problem for Google, leading some to call for a new search engine and us to wonder if it’s the new Yahoo ;
- Weinberg went to MIT and sold his last company for $10 million so he’s not just anybody ;
- DuckDuckGo grew 500% last year, mostly by word of mouth.
Weinberg thinks privacy is also a big problem for Google, and he made that point with a $7,000 billboard in San Francisco.
So we decided to check in with him to see what’s up, over Skype.
Here’s our interview:
Here’s the text version:
SAI: so, why not tell us first about yourself?
Gabriel Weinberg: Sure
Gabriel Weinberg: I’m 31; been doing startup stuff since college.
Gabriel Weinberg: Married with 1 son :). What else would you like to know?
SAI: you sold your previous startup, right?
Gabriel Weinberg: Yup, Opobox dba NamesDatabase to Classmates.com, a division of United Online (NASDAQ: UNTD) in 2006.
SAI: in a nutshell
SAI: what is wrong with google?
Gabriel Weinberg: Spam, irrelevent results, clutter, and privacy.
SAI: everyone agrees the spam thing is really bad
Gabriel Weinberg: Yeah, it was originally a primary motivator for starting DuckDuckGo three years ago, and it has just gotten worse over time.
SAI: how about privacy?
SAI: what’s so bad about google and privacy?
Gabriel Weinberg: There are two seperate aspects that I try to explain at http://donttrack.us/
Gabriel Weinberg: First, Google sends your search terms to sites you click on — this is entirely fixable and I hope they do so. Ad networks can piece together your private search history via this search leakage.
SAI: not many people understand this
Gabriel Weinberg: Second, which people are less concerned about it, is that Google itself saves your search history. The piece here people don’t think about is that this history can be leaked to the government, be hacked, or rogue employees can snoop it.
Gabriel Weinberg: DuckDuckGo does neither. We don’t store IP addresses or user agents so your searches can not be tied to you (or together). We also don’t send searches to sites you click on.
SAI: but doesn’t that help Google give better results?
Gabriel Weinberg: It may in the future, but it doesn’t seem to be used much to date. They’ve said in various places that it hasn’t worked great as a signal yet.
Gabriel Weinberg: Additionally, it could be opt-in.
Gabriel Weinberg: In other words, pepole who use DDG don’t seem to notice or mind it isn’t there.
SAI: so, do you think Google is evil?
Gabriel Weinberg: No, not at all. They are just a big company.
Gabriel Weinberg: I think they have the best of intentions.
SAI: so you started DuckDuckGo 3 years ago
SAI: how’s growth been?
Gabriel Weinberg: Good. I soft-launched it a bit over 2 years ago.
Gabriel Weinberg: It has grown steadily since then, mainly via word of mouth.
Gabriel Weinberg: In 2010, it saw 500% growth, from ~500K searches/mo to 2.5M searches/mo.
Gabriel Weinberg: I’m hoping for similar growth in 2011! SAI: nice
SAI: i have to ask this
SAI: do you really want to compete with google
SAI: or are you making a point and/or playing around
SAI: or do you want to one day be as big as them?
Gabriel Weinberg: My goal since the beginning is to be the primary search engine for as many people as possible.
Gabriel Weinberg: So no, not playing around :)
SAI: excellent. ambition is great.
SAI: so what sets DDG apart?
SAI: besides the privacy
SAI: what do you do, technically, that makes you think you’re better than google?
SAI: to fight spam and irrelevant results and the rest?
Gabriel Weinberg: Remember those areas I mentioned that are wrong with Google? We address each one, and our about page tried to summarize it http://duckduckgo.com/about.html
Gabriel Weinberg: For spam, we way more aggressively remove useless sites with just ads.
Gabriel Weinberg: For irrelevent results, we do a lot of things, but a couple are a) we try to get results that are more topic based, and b) we remove all those stupid content farm sites.
Gabriel Weinberg: For better search experience, we’ve developed some new concepts. Namely, zero-click info.
Gabriel Weinberg: For many searches we provide instant answers above the links, with cool stuff like category pages, disambiguation etc.
SAI: well google does that as well for some results
Gabriel Weinberg: I could go on :) — check out http://duckduckgo.com/goodies.html for all sorts of goodies
Gabriel Weinberg: Right, we take it an order of manitude further, using APIs and dumps from sites like WolframAlpha, Wikia, etc.
SAI: so what’s next for you?
Gabriel Weinberg: Then there is of course look and feel.
Gabriel Weinberg: We’re concentrating on two pieces right now.
Gabriel Weinberg: 1) Even more and better Zero-click info from all sorts of other vertical search engines.
Gabriel Weinberg: 2) Pushing our less cluttered UI even further to deliver great search experiences, a la http://duckduckgo.com/?q=simpsons+characters
SAI: all right
SAI: thanks a lot
Gabriel Weinberg: Thank you!
Gabriel Weinberg: OK, back to work :)