Monthly Archives: June 2016

I Use DuckDuckGo, Do You?

DuckDuckGo

I have a confession to make. I haven’t “googled” anything for a long time. I haven’t run out of things to search for, (I still do web searches dozens of times a day), but for the last 18 months or so I have been using an alternative to Google, and I haven’t looked back once. Here’s why you might want to think about doing the same.

What is DuckDuckGo?

DuckDuckGo is a search engine that has several unique features that set it apart from the likes of Google, Bing or Yahoo!. Among the most important to me is privacy. DuckDuckGo does not collect or share any of your personal information when you complete a web search. It is, to all intents and purposes, completely anonymous. The same cannot be said for Google, Bing or Yahoo! who use this data to build a profile about you so that advertisers can target you with ads that inevitably follow you around the internet.

Privacy is Dead, Right?

The vast majority of the internet is free to use, but it’s not without a cost. There is an expression I like that sums this up well – If you didn’t buy the product, you are the product. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Bing and others all offer compelling free services, but whether you know it or not, they also collect large amounts of personal data from you when you use their products. Cookies, ads and other tracking tools watch your every move and record your online activities.

The truth is, your personal data is valuable, and an increasing number of people are trying to get a hold of as much of it as they can. Grocery stores collect data on you every time you use a store card. Email marketers track the clicks they get from newsletters you subscribe to. Internet Service Providers, research companies, telemarketers, political parties and countless other people all want to know more about you so that they can use that data to their advantage. As consumers, educators, parents and citizens of a digital world, we need to be aware of this.

However, I think we need to do more than just educate ourselves. We need to go further and help inform others (especially teens) of the trade off that they are making when they first start using these services. Are you comfortable with the kind of relationship you are entering into with these services? Are there alternatives with better privacy policies? Is there any way to take a stand against this incessant data mining? Questions like these led me to DuckDuckGo in the first place and started me thinking more about online privacy.

DuckDuckGo Safari Firefox

Is DuckDuckGo Any Good?

Actually, it is. I wouldn’t use it if it wasn’t. I started off using DuckDuckGo on a trial basis but I couldn’t help think I would revert back to Google or Bing before too long. However, I stuck with it for several days and doggedly refused to use anything else, just to see if it really could work for me or not. What I soon came to realize was that the search results I got from DuckDuckGo were actually very good, and when I compared the keyword searches with Google or Bing I got similar (or better) results.

It is also a growing service. Last I checked, DuckDuckGo was handling an average of 11.3 million searches per day. This number is nowhere close to the billions of searches that Google handles, but it is a number that is increasing all the time and it is testament to the fact that they serve up great search queries. This means a sizeable number of people do use DuckDuckGo as their default search engine.

Does it Do Any Tricks?

Indeed it does. DuckDuckGo has some useful options like themes, region and time sensitive searches, but you would probably expect features like that. It has a safe search mode that is enabled by default and there are numerous custom options you can explore in the settings, including the ability to turn off advertisements. You will also notice that, depending on what you search for, images, news, videos, definitions, maps and more appear as instant answers at the top of your results page. Music, recipes, weather, and movies are also among these results with the ability to play audio and video files from the search page, as opposed to visiting a site like YouTube that tracks your viewing history.

Instant Answer Search Results DuckDuckGo

However, the real power of DuckDuckGo is found in the bangs. Bangs are a way to quickly search thousands of your favorite sites with a handy keyboard shortcut. Bangs use the search engine on your favorite sites to give you exactly the results you need. For instance, let’s say you wanted to look for an external hard drive on eBay. You could go to ebay.com and type your keywords into the search box at the top of the page. However, with DuckDuckGo, all you need to do is type !ebay external hard drive and it will display the same website search results.

Note: You can do something similar on Google with a search query like site:ebay.com external hard drive, but this will give you a list of search results on Google’s website, as opposed to ebay.com, so it is an extra click if you want to view any of those results and it is more cumbersome if you want to view more information on multiple results.

As you can see below, there are bangs for all kind of sites and services on the web. In fact, as of today, there are at least 8,225 so the chances are high that a bang exists for the site that you want to use. If for some reason it doesn’t, you can make a suggestion for a website to add. You can use bangs directly from the search bar on DuckDuckGo.com or via the address bar in your browser if you make DuckDuckGo your default search provider.

DuckDuckGo Bangs

Is DuckDuckGo a Good Option for Schools?

Both Microsoft and Google have strict privacy options in regards to how it handles the data from teachers and students who use their services. That said, there is no reason I can think of as to why a school couldn’t use DuckDuckGo as the default search engine on school devices. For instance, it could form part of a great conversation around how the web works today. It is has safe search built-in by default and is also a great option for students when they graduate and are starting to think about using some of the same services as individuals – services that are not governed by the privacy agreements they were previously bound to between technology companies and their school.

Additional Resources for Schools:

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How (and Why) to Compress Video on iPads & iPhones

compress video ipad

Do your videos take a long time to upload to YouTube? Does the iOS Mail app refuse to send your large videos? If so, you should consider a video compression app for your iPad or iPhone. The job of a video compressor is to make your file sizes smaller so that they are easier to work with or share with other people.  Today I am going to show you one that I use and give you some tips on how to get the most out of it.

Why Use a Video Compression App?

Today there are lots of reasons why you might want to compress a video that you have on your iPhone or iPad. Smaller videos are easier to share with others whether that is via YouTube or simply to upload as a student assignment via Showbie or an LMS. Storage space is another good example of why you might want to compress videos. If you have a 16GB iPad (or iPhone) then free space is increasingly a problem. Compressing a video lets you keep a more friendly file-sized version on your device so that you can backup or remove the original. In schools, this can be a common problem.

If students are working on a shared video project, or filming with multiple devices, smaller video files are easier to transfer from one device to another via AirDrop or cloud services. They are also more email friendly because you can usually reduce them below the maximum file size limits found in most email services.

Video Compression Apps for the iPad & iPhone

The app I have been using for compressing video on an iPad or iPhone is called Video Compressor – Just Set the Target Size! It’s a free app and a useful one to keep on your iOS device for those times when you really need it. Best of all, the app is really easy to use. Simply select the video you want to compress, and move the slider to select the file size you would like to achieve, (also shown as a percentage reduction). Compressed videos are saved to the Camera Roll alongside the original video. This means you effectively have two copies of the same video, but the file size of one will be significantly smaller than the other.

Compress Video - Just Set the Target Size

The Downsides of Using a Video Compression App

Of course, everything has a downside. When you compress a video you are making a compromise between quality and file size. The more you compress a video, the more artifacts you will see on the final product. This means a video that has been compressed a lot could appear fuzzy or grainy when viewed full screen or on high resolution screens. So, it is a bit like limbo dancing. You have to think about how low can you go before things start to get out of control! 🙂

Often this comes down to trial and error as you work between what file size you need versus how much resolution you need. However, it could also come down to what your end goal is. For instance, is your goal to share an HD video at the highest quality, or are you just looking to share a first cut with an instructor or peer in order to get their feedback on your early edit? This is an important distinction to make, but the results you get from compressing a video may be better than you think if you are judicious with your use of the Target Size slider.

Should You Compress Videos?

At the end of the day, it comes down to what your needs are and how important it is to have the full resolution in your final videos. If you use services like Google Photos to back up your media, you are already compressing your photos and videos to a smaller file size if you opted for unlimited online storage, (like most people do). Google says that if your video is 1080p or less, it will look “close to the original” when uploaded to Google Photos. Ultimately that is what I aim for if I ever have to compress an iPad or iPhone video, but 720p is very usable too, especially if YouTube is the final destination.

Of course,  a good way to avoid compressing videos is editing. When you edit video on the iPad you have the chance to cut down the length of your videos, which will in turn cut down the file size of your videos. Shoot short, and edit tight. Nobody really wants to watch a ten minute video so if you can, try to aim for two to three minutes at the most on your finished, edited project. Otherwise, compression is a valid option. I don’t compress videos often, but when I do, this is the app I use.