Category Archives: google

bursting out of the search bubble, or not

Space Helmet Bubble!

The search bubble. That thing where Google puts you in so your results are tailored to your preferences and habits. It’s kinda creepy and cool at the same time isn’t it? One of DuckDuckGo‘s main features is that they don’t put you in a bubble. So they don’t track your past queries, they don’t spy on your social media accounts to figure out what you read, like or retweet and they don’t tailor your results.

This video shows pretty nicely what that Google bubble looks like btw.

Scary isn’t it? The problem is however… it works so damn good too.

I know my results are customized, but when I look for .NET related stuff (which I do all the time at work for example) whatever I’m looking for is usually in the top 3. I know it’s biased, but heck, it works like a charm.
Outside of the bubble, I get more stuff I don’t want or isn’t what I’m looking for.

So it all depends on what you want doesn’t it? But it is a good thing to know that the bubble is there and that it learns from your queries. It’s also good to know that you can escape the bubble if you want to. And just logging out of your Google account probably isn’t good enough.

Photo by Rachel Titiriga, cc-licensed.

how to figure out if a site is a scam

All right, everybody be cool, this is a robbery!

I was looking into getting some ebooks so I googled around a bit and something came up that was offering a nice deal. In fact, it was so nice that a little warning indicator popped up in my brain. It was looking a bit too good to be true, you know, the typical signs of a scam: if it’s too good to be true, it usually is.

Then I read the conditions and apparently you had to pay upfront before you could buy a book. Hmm. More warnings popped up.

So how do you determine if a site is a scam? Well, googling the name might help and turn up some warnings. But it didn’t in my case. That search however did turn up one thing by chance. A site that calculates the ranking of this ebook scam site gave me links to similar sites. When I opened one of them, it turned it had the same layout. In fact, it was a clone of the original site hosted on a different domain.

Scam?

So how many more domains like that are there? I tried a few google tricks and finally struck gold by copying a line of text from the site’s privacy policy, surrounding it with quotes to have The Google search for that exact piece of text. If that line is unique enough, it should only turn up a single website. Or websites that copied the same text. Or complete clones of the website as in this case.

The result? Google turned up a huge list of sites hosting the exact same content under a ton of different domains, sometimes with a different layout theme or logo. But plain copies none the less.

Scam!

Picture by Alex Abian, cc-licensed.

break out of the search bubble

This is relevant to my interests

Did you know that when you search on the popular search engines these days you’re actually doing that from inside a “search bubble”? Google, Bing and Yahoo all do it, to give you more tailored and “relevant to your interest” results.

Let’s take Google for example, since most people are using that one anyway. They are tracking your searches and clicks, if you’re logged in or not. They do this to compose a profile on you so that they can give you more specific search results the next time you look for something. They try to determine your sex, age and location (just like on IRC) to feed you the search results your are probably looking for. They are filtering the information based on a profile they’ve created on you.

The damn thing is that this actually works quite well. As a software developer I search a lot for technical, programming related topics. Google knows this and will give me those before any other possible hits. But what are you missing? What links are not included in your personal bubble just because Mr Google finds them irrelevant for you?

So how do you bust out of this bubble? You could use a browser with privacy mode but as long as you’re still using Google to search, or Chrome, you can’t be sure.

Another way is to use a different search engine. I know! A different search engine. It’s been ages since that happened right?

Enter DuckDuckGo. Beside the funny name and the mascot (A duck! Who would have guessed!) this one doesn’t put you in a bubble, doesn’t track your info and uses SSL by default.
Give it a try, and you’ll see that your results are quite different from Google’s. I have to be honest here and say that in some cases, the Google results are “better”. But that’s the bubble at work here.

DuckDuckGo also has a ton of specific search goodies like a built-in calculator and conversion engine, some specific tech goodies (whois queries, md5 hashes etc) and the !bang searches which allow you to search sites and topics directly.

As you can see, there’s plenty of reasons to try this new duck on the block out and burst out of your search bubble. The goodies alone make it worth checking out imo.