Is Google Search broken? These two images indicate that it just might be.

(Background: The Spreading Santorum website/meme began in 2003, when sex columnist and gay rights activist Dan Savage re-defined Santorum’s name as a protest against the then-Senator’s anti-gay agenda. Ironically, Savage has stated on his podcast that he and Santorum used to be college roommates at Penn.)

Long considered the king of search engines, Google is now facing dissatisfaction from a number of users who have realized that its Page Rank, SEO-focused algorithm may be too easy to game. The results above is a good example of Google Search’s shortcoming. While most people know “Santorum” as a candidate for the GOP leadership, I doubt that any of them are looking for the perverse definition of “Santorum” that Google returns as its top result. On the other hand, DuckDuckGo returns the official results for Santorum, but also gives users the option of adding “Dan Savage” as keywords if you are indeed looking for the alternate definition. (Ironically, you can also add “Google Problem” to your search.)

DuckDuckGo is a search engine launched in September 2008 by Gabriel Weinberg. Often referred to as a “hybrid” search engine because of its ample use of various search APIs, DuckDuckGo prioritized the user’s privacy and promises not to track your searches. DuckDuckGo also differentiates itself by staying away from displaying websites in which low-quality content has dominated the SEO game (ie. “content mill”). Instead, it prioritizes information from crowd-sourced website, such as Wikipedia, and trusted/curated sources, such as the NYT. 

What I appreciate most about DuckDuckGo is its efforts to “pop the filter bubble”. In an earlier blog post, I cautioned against echo chambers and talked about the biases that my own filters have encouraged. DuckDuckGo seems to pull in the other direction; it wants to show perspectives that would otherwise have been filtered out of my usual search results. 

While I love the idea of DuckDuckGo, I wonder if its algorithmic advantage is enough to draw users away from Google. For one, Google already has a stronghold in mobile search with its native integration with Android. Secondly, I don’t think the Google problem is as severe as some make it seem – ultimately, the most relevant result will show up in the first few links, if not at the top. DuckDuckGo’s potential lies instead in a partnership with Apple’s Siri, where concise and accurate information is more crucial to the user. 

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