I've been a DuckDuckGo user since the very early days - I've been very impressed by the way the site has developed, and I have influenced a number of people to switch over from Google. I've given the new version a go, but I don't like it as much as the old site I'm afraid. Here's a summary of my first impressions.

The good:

* At least the majority of things that made DDG better than the competition haven't been broken.

* The core functionality seems to work mostly OK in my relatively obscure set of browsers, although it's not as glitch-free as the old version. (As it's only in beta, I can ignore the glitches for now.)

* The zero click info box was probably due for a bit of love and attention. The new idea does seem good in principle, though there are a few problems that make the current implementation less than stellar.

* The Images, Videos, etc, tabs are a very welcome addition. I am not sure that the search technology behind them is quite ready for primetime yet though. Try searching for "24" and hitting "Videos" for example; then compare to the Google result for the same search.

The bad:

* The general aesthetics aren't great. The previous design was always clean and attractive. The new home page colour scheme makes it look a bit like someone has thrown a bucket of poo at the screen, and it hasn't quite been cleaned off properly. Still, I suppose looks aren't the most important thing if the functionality is OK.

* There's one big UI faux pas committed in several places - it's not a good idea to hide major controls until some special area of screen is hovered over. This applies to the new scrolling info bar, and also to the "more results from this site" control on the results. Two reasons not to do this:

1. It's much less efficient from a usability perspective. The user is forced to hit two onscreen targets, the second of which isn't even visible until they have hit the first.

2. It's not compatible with a wide range of input devices. Not everything has a concept of "hover over". For example these features are now unusable on my phone's browser, for no good reason.

* While I think the new scrolling bar has a lot of promise, it also has some obvious problems. Among them are:

1. It would be good to have some way to see all the information on offer, in a reasonably compact form. I was impressed to see that pretty much all the key data from the old info box is available before scrolling, even though at first glance it looks like the information density is lower. But once you do start scrolling it all starts to fall to pieces, feeling like you're spooling through a mile of ticker tape to find the item you're looking for, while the rest of the screen sits there unused, mocking you. And the "view all" option (when it works, which is not always) fills up the whole screen with empty space. Empty, that is, except for a set of randomly shuffled cards from which finding information feels a bit like playing pelmanism. I'm sure something clever can be done here that would improve the usability greatly without throwing away the core idea.

2. The priority ordering of information appears to be not nearly as good as the old system. (Simple example: a search for "test" lists some Canadian wrestler as the third most important item. The old site does a bit better than that.)

3. The "go to category" function doesn't work as well as it ought to. I'd expect it to focus down onto the selected category. Instead it just jumps to a preset scroll position in the big linear tape of things, with no visual cue as to where the category starts or ends. I imagine that doing it this way is also what has given rise to problem 3 - there's a conflict here between presenting the information in categories and presenting it in order of relevance, and I'm not sure that can be resolved without having two different views.

4. A pet hate of mine - why on earth, 40 years after the invention of the scroll bar, and nearly 10 years after my trackpad had a scroll gesture added, does anyone think it's a good idea to use cumbersome old-fashioned giant buttons to scroll things? Just because it's temporarily in vogue at Apple doesn't mean it's any good. I'm not sure I'd ever reach the end of the list of items under normal circumstances because it involves way too much clicking, one click for every three or four items. And there's no good indication of where you are in the big list.

* The very monochrome look of the results page detracts from the usability - it takes more visual processing to separate the individual results than it did on the old site, where there were some good colour cues to assist the user's brain in that task.

* Meanwhile the left and right margins now look massively oversized and space-wasting. That's surprising given that they are only about the same size as on the old site - but the because the old version put something vaguely useful in that area, it made the design feel clean rather than wasteful.

* Speaking of wasted space, somehow the redesign has made about 15% less results fit on screen at any one time. I'm not quite sure how that has been achieved - is it the font sizes? The spacing? Anyhow, it's not a killer problem, and I can use the "zoom out" function of my browser to get the old density back, but I'd have thought that this would have been quite an important consideration given that the results are the whole point of the site.

* The menu button on the homepage is pretty well camouflaged. I guess it's OK once you have found it. But couldn't it, perhaps, say "Menu" or "More" or something next to it, to make it a bit more obvious? I do hope the new DDG hasn't developed an allergy to words in its interface. (This use of unclear, highly-stylised icons is likely to be a bigger problem for novice users who aren't as techically aware - it's the kind of thing I've seen plenty of non-technical people struggling with on Android smartphones, for example.)

The Ugly:

These are the dealbreakers - if these things aren't fixed when "next" becomes "now", I'll have to go back to evaluating alternative search engines, and stop recommending DDG as a homepage.

* I appreciate that some people will really like the auto-suggest. Personally I hate it, and it's one of the reasons I rarely visit Google any more. Yes, I have some good reasons for this:

1. Sending all my keystrokes to the server as I type them is a big privacy hole.

2. It's also a performance problem when I'm on a poor connection (e.g. on the move).

3. My brower has a perfectly good history auto-complete that this function usurps. The browser knows the kind of things I may search for; the auto-complete doesn't. Which leads to...

4. This is just a personal preference rather than a reasoned argument, but I find it really irritating to see all the inane suggestions come up that have nothing to do with anything I would ever search for. (Or sometimes instead they are actively embarassing - type "test", for example and you get offered "testicular cancer symptoms" as choice #2.) Seriously - you do NOT know better than I do what I am searching for.

Any chance auto-complete could be something that can be switched off in the settings?

* The full URL paths of the results are only shown one at a time, on hover-over. Maybe this is OK for beginner-level users, but for someone with better search skills, the URL path is a vital piece of information when quickly scanning the results to find the ones that are most useful. Only displaying the full path when a result has already been chosen is a major loss of capability. Again, could this be a settings option (if it can't just be entirely reinstated)?

The other general thing that has worried me is the Google-like "we don't care" attitude I saw expressed in one of the official forum replies here. You know, the sort of reply that says: "Tough on you if you really liked our product, everything must always be constantly changing to please the Great God Marketing, and we can always get another customer base if we lose you lot." That's something I haven't seen from DDG before. It's the sort of business logic that led to New Coke. It's also the kind of thing that generated the market niche for DDG in the first place, when Google started behaving that way. Please, DuckDuckGo - don't be evil!
posted by <hidden> • 4 years and 8 months ago Link

Thanks for the great feedback! This is all very useful and we will indeed have a setting to turn off auto-suggest.

I apologize if another thread made you feel that way. This is a community moderated forum.
posted by yegg Staff4 years and 8 months ago Link
Thank you for posting this! I am quite disappointed too, for virtually the same reasons. I also am surprised by the overwhelmingly positive feedback I saw on the forum since the beta thing was revealed.
posted by <hidden> • 4 years and 8 months ago Link