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James Perrin

DuckDuckGo Secures Funding – Is it a Threat to Google?

14th Oct 2011 News, Industry News 3 minutes to read

Yesterday it was announced that Union Square Ventures (USV) are to invest in the new alternative search engine called DuckDuckGo for an unreported sum. This is quite a significant step forward for the search engine which has been billed (no pun intended) as a ‘young Google’. However will it be a threat to the search lord?

Whilst it is early days to even talk of DDG competing with the likes of Google, in USV’s blog post Brad Burnham does indicate changing the basis of competition to compete in search. Something he believes is what DDG are doing.

Google have an unrivalled dominance in the search engine market on both sides of the Atlantic and in markets right across the world. Our latest monthly statistics show that Google account for 65.30% of the market in the US and a staggering 90.78% in the UK [See: Search Engine Market Share Statistics – October 2011]. Therefore, it’s going to take something particularly special to topple this monster.

Other search engines have tried and failed. From Alta Vista to Cuil and Ask to AOL, their inferior algorithms and flawed business models did nothing to dent Google’s dominance. For Brad Burnham of USV, tackling competition like this head on just doesn’t work; you have to change to basis of competition, “We invested in DuckDuckGo because we became convinced that it was not only possible to change the basis of competition in search, it was time to do it.”

For USV what better way to change the basis of search engine competition than investing in a search engine that isn’t competing directly with Google? Burnham says, “Our confidence in Gabriel [Weinberg] and DuckDuckGo is informed by having watched the decline of Microsoft’s hegemony in the 90’s. Two things happened that fundamentally changed the game: a shift in venue and a shift in business model. It turned out that the way to compete with Microsoft was to not to compete, at least not directly. The way to compete with Microsoft was to change the basis of competition.” DDG is their opportunity to do so.

DuckDuckGo pride themselves on offering users the best search results, without all the spam. They’re also huge advocates of private search; their major USP is that they don’t rely on personalised results. In other words they don’t gather information on their users and to that end they came up with a catchy marketing campaign when they hit the scene, ‘Google tracks you. We don’t’ [See: How Vital is Private Search? ‘Very’ Say DuckDuckGo].

What makes DDG so intriguing is the way they don’t rely on traditional algorithmic signals, they curate search results through the use of real authorities. Burnham must see something in DDG that reminds him of Google in their early days, acting as innovators not imitators.

For a search engine that was initially self funded and now only sees occasional funding through advertising, this investment can be hugely significant. It has grown organically through its unique take on search and they are now receiving approximately 300,000 direct queries per day. Doing so on such a limited budget signifies why USV were so interested in them, and with the added investment, we can only wait to see how the search engine will grow.

As it isn’t a direct threat to Google per se, I doubt Schmidt, Page or Brin are particularly worried at this stage. In their eyes competition is welcomed, especially given their monopoly on the market [See: How Many is Too Many Antitrust Complaints for Google?] but what’s interesting is that DDG isn’t like other search engines that Google have had to compete with in the past, DDG are just that little bit different.

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