Paoli’s DuckDuckGo Wants to Bring Google to Its Knees

Gabriel Weinberg's search engine aims to change your Internet ways.

What prompted you to create a search engine like DuckDuckGo, and play David to Google’s Goliath?
I was going in a bunch of different directions that interested me, and a lot of that had to do with search technologies like crawling and databases. I was thinking that Google was too dominant and could use some competition. Then, through a conglomeration of failures and time spent thinking about it, I came up with a path I thought was interesting.

And that path called for you to adopt a different method than just the links that Google uses?
I watched people use search engines and basically felt that the search results page didn’t make any sense to them. They understood the behavior of clicking forward and back and that they had to click things until they found what they were looking for. But if you asked them, “Why are these titles there?” or “What does that link mean?,” they didn’t really have any idea. There was an opportunity to make the results page make inherent sense.

So that’s why a DuckDuckGo search returns Wikipedia paragraphs and official sites at the top of the results?
Basically, we use human-edited, curated sources, so the titles and descriptions are actually edited to make sense. Wikipedia was one of the first places I looked for that, because they have a lot of information. People can search for something and the return will be what I’ve come to call “instant answers.”

Isn’t that the idea behind the overhaul that Google just announced to its search philosophy?
Google’s been doing that to pretty much all search engine start-ups. A lot of times we’ll launch something and then a couple of months later, they’ll launch something similar.

You don’t collect and share personal information, though, while Google seems to be moving in the opposite direction.
Even before their new changes, Google was tracking you in a number of ways that DuckDuckGo was not. Google’s new policy goes even further. It basically says that if you use a bunch of different Google services, they could combine the data and use it to target ads and track you across their services.

You’ve called Google out for that.
I put a DuckDuckGo billboard up that said “GOOGLE TRACKS YOU. WE DON’T” in San Francisco, right on the 101 near Google’s headquarters.

And now you’re getting over 40 million queries a month and have rapidly growing revenue. Did you ever think it would get this big?
After the soft launch in 2008, I was just happy that we were getting 10,000 visits a month.

Why was Philly the right place for you and your family?
Honestly, it was almost process of elimination, because there weren’t that many East Coast cities that met our requirements, and we wanted to be on the East Coast. But I love our particular location.

This piece originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Philadelphia magazine.