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The Digital Skeptic: DuckDuckGo Cooks Google's Goose

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- Turns out the recipe for cooking Google's (GOOG) goose -- or Amazon's (AMZN), eBay's (EBAY), Facebook's (FB) or really any Web giant for that matter -- is pretty darn simple.

"Make it like Google," tech entrepreneur Gabriel Weinberg says, "only simpler."

The new search engine DuckDuckGo seems to prove big is no longer beautiful.

Weinberg is founder and CEO of DuckDuckGo, the itty bitty, Valley Forge, Pa.-based search engine that is becoming the business and finance search tool of choice. That, by the way, rewrites entirely the rules of what constitutes a threat to an online business.

See, Weinberg is no heavily financed, Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report)- or Apple (AAPL)-scale assault on the search market. Even though its backers are A-list investors such as Union Square Ventures, DuckDuckGo has just a $3 million or so war chest. Pocket change, really, for doing battle online.

Nor does Weinberg sit at the helm of an army of coders hacking away at Larry and Sergey's search empire. When I spoke to him on the phone, the remarkably relaxed MIT grad said he employed "about 10" contractors.

"Honestly," he says, "it's really just two of us that do most of the work."

Scarier yet for the supersize-me Web elite, Weinberg can't say exactly how his search engine works. He's not pulling a Jamie Dimon here. He doesn't really need to know.

"We are not reinventing the search process," he said. "We use information from other sources like Wikipedia or Wolfram Alpha. I just don't know how they do it."

More Go than Google
What DuckDuckGo does (Weinberg and his wife dreamed up the name up in 2007; he says it has no hidden meaning) is sniff out the best data already on the Web for a given search. Then it rakes out all the unnecessary steps of presenting that information. Separate search pages, found in Google or Bing, are vaporized. Paid links are all but gone -- there is exactly one per query. And simple content -- say, a popular wiki listing -- is displayed right in the initial search results.

But the big plus for investors and businesses increasingly queasy about Google capturing its search data: DuckDuckGo does not track how you use it. It keeps no click records. Buffers no search results. It's just you and your computer. Weinberg has no interest in looking over your shoulder.

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