Author(s): Peter Bryer
Is this the classic "underduck" story?
The happy duck of DuckDuckGo's logo suddenly has good reason to smile. According to founder and CEO Gabriel Weinberg, the company is profitable despite having a sliver of the search market. DuckDuckGo emphasizes end-user privacy, a commitment made clear in the company slogan: "The search engine that doesn't track you".
Market share stats from Internet research firms like comScore and NetMarketShare tell a consistent story of a highly concentrated market. About 97 percent of all Internet searches go via four companies: Baidu, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. Google's global share is roughly 66 percent, and above 90 percent in mobile.
Somewhere in the "others" section of market share pie charts is DuckDuckGo, behind Ask.com, Aol and a few other regional search services few have heard of. DuckDuckGo — or DDG, as fans are calling it — isn't burning up the charts just yet, but fortuitous timing and clever branding have made it an anti-establishment choice for Internet users wanting something different.
DuckDuckGo was officially labelled a competitor by Google a few years back, and became a search engine option in Apple's Safari and Mozilla's Firefox browser in late 2014. The DDG duck logo is now listed along with some of the world's most valuable brands — the search firm might not be a household name yet, but it's keeping good company. Tiny DuckDuckGo is currently just short of two dozen employees, and appears to be the Cinderella story of search as it goes up against rivals Amazon, Baidu, Google and Microsoft. This start-up out of Philadelphia is dancing proud and gaining funding and talent.
Of course, at the end of the day, it's all about results: the quality of links returned, overall number of queries and company profitability. Paraphrasing a CEO interview in a Business Insider article, it's full steam ahead for DuckDuckGo. The company has jumped from 1 million searches per day in 2014 to 4 million earlier in 2015 to more than 10 million last week (though this compares with the 3 billion searches per day quoted by Google executives). DuckDuckGo had long been the default search engine of the browser supplied by the anonymous communications Tor Project, and the number of queries it received in 2013 jumped as stories about government surveillance grew. But usage really spiked late in 2014, when DDG was included as a search option in Firefox and Safari browsers. It was a name-association coup not only for DuckDuckGo but also for Apple and Mozilla, providing both with a quick answer to growing privacy concerns.
In an interview last week, DuckDuckGo said that the private company is now profitable, serving search ads without the benefit of user tracking. DDG's numbers are reported in the millions and are dwarfed by Google's billions, but, seven years after starting up, the company is considered a serious search alternative by users looking for a something different.
Competitors like Google are likely to welcome the rival at a time when antitrust authorities are challenging the giants' market influence. For now, it looks like a fairy tale of a small duck making it in the big city. DuckDuckGo is just beginning to spread its wings.