Smarter Search with DuckDuckGo

David-sized search engine DuckDuckGo is a sweet package of search goodness. While it certainly doesn’t have the vast tentacles of a Google or even a Bing, it offers some features that might persuade you to join the flock.

Duck Duck Go’s results are a duck soup made from many sources, including Yahoo! Search BOSS, Wikipedia, and its own Web crawler (DuckDuckBot). Although it has been around since 2008, the Duck flew across my radar this morning, when I happened on Robert Scoble’s stream of conciousness post on DDG’s new use of Twitter lists on the home page. So, being the curious sort, I checked it out.

DDG offers a great search result, free of most advertise-y, spammy, content-farmy sites that pervade the larger players. It also is private in that it does not track or retain your search and browse history. It even looks clean. I personally like the all-on-one-page feature – you simply keep scrolling down and new items load. Navigate the results with keyboard shortcuts if that is your thing. For some results, DDG will offer alternative sets of results that it “thinks” might be of value. And, if you like ads, you might want to avoid DDG – there are none. Whew!

It also has a pretty cool feature called iBangs. You can use a dropdown button next to the search box and it will put results from your most frequented sites at the tope. Or, for certain sites, simply type an exclamation point before the site name and the subject of the search and your results will come from the site. A simple ! or !ducky takes you to the first result. So, even though it does not yet have a video tab, searching !youtube will limit your search to only YouTube videos.

So what’s this about Twitter lists? Apparently, as of yesterday afternoon, you could embed a list on your DDG page and make that your homepage. Essentially, you could get search and your fav Twitter stream in one stop. Pretty cool, especially if you consider Twitter a search resource.

Have you used it? Will you use it? I intend to check it out, if for no other reason than I am sick of ads choking out my valid results.

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WolframAlpha – Now 96% Off!

Hurry, you don’t want to miss this sale! WolframAlpha, the singular computational knowledge engine’s famed iPhone app has just dropped in price from $49.99 to $1.99! (link here)  You probably don’t have to hurry, though, as this appears to be an indefinite adjustment.

I have been writing about WolframAlpha since just about the start of the hype about a year ago (link here). I was somewhat saddened to learn that their iPhone application was released at the hefty price of $49.99, well north of the average for iPhone applications.

When I caught the news of the huge price drop on it yesterday, I immediately loaded it up and have been playing with it ever since. Did you know that the United States covers approximately 3.7 million square acres? Or that the distance from earth the the center of the Milky Way galaxy is 7.611 kiloparsecs? Or that high tide in Gloucester, Massachusetts today was at 1:59 p.m. eastern standard time and crested at 11.2 feet? Neither did I until I played with the app’s stellar interface.

I would say that this application justifies its $1.99 price tag, if for no other reason than the alternate scientific and mathematical keyboards for ease of computational search.  And damn it’s fun!

Check it out – believe me, there are times when a hyper-capable data calculation tool comes in handy, even for us lawyer-types.

Your Stimulus Dollars at Work: Tightening Up Search

Imagine a search engine that employs experiments to learn from you? The computer scientists at Cornell University have and they are using stimulus money (a four-year, $1 million grant) to improve search based on such experiments. The scientists are looking to develop search engine software that can read your queries and clicks, as well as subsequent query reformulations, in order to understand search methodology and what does and doesn’t work. The software developed from these efforts will be best used in specialized collections – the examples from the press release include scientific and legal collections and corporate intranets.

The search engine software will learn what works best by analyzing user data, almost as if by osmosis. The researchers already have developed the aptly-named Osmot and are looking to improve the process by tightening the experimental controls. More on Osmot at this link.

What does it all mean for you? Smarter search engines might yield faster and better results, but I still hesitate slightly at the thought of a machine’s judgment regarding what is and is not relevant substituting for my own. In any event, it will be interesting to see where this inqury leads and the ramifications for search.