Monday, July 28, 2008

The search-engine wars: Cuil takes aim at Google

Former Googlers have come up with a new search engine designed to rival the reigning King of the Jungle, Google itself, the New York Times reported today.
They’ve created Cuil, pronounced “cool,” to best their master at his own game.

It's the latest in the search-engine wars, which include Ask's campaign to be seen as a viable alternative and Microsoft simply throwing money at people to use Live.
Cuil’s creators say it searches more pages than Google and provides Web surfers with more data about each link by providing images, according to the Times piece.
Cool, I thought. Let’s have a crack at it.
Full disclosure: on days when I’m annoyed with Google – which are infrequent but do occur – I use Ask in a personal measure of rebellion. No, it doesn’t work as well. Nothing does. That’s why I eventually go back to Google, as does the rest of the world.
So it was with strong curiosity and a lack of optimism that I went to Cuil.
Up popped an uncluttered black background, yin to the yang of the Google white-screen. A copycat, sure, but a neat-looking one.
There was only one question: What to test it with?
The obvious answer, of course, was my own name. Who better than me to judge the relevance of the results?

I typed in "Arden Pennell" expectantly.
And the winner is : … Google, hands down. Cuil presented only and exclusively articles I wrote for the German media company Deutsche Welle when I lived in Berlin 2006-07. Nothing from my past year in Palo Alto appeared on the main page. That means Cuil rather, ahem, coolly overlooked hundreds of article, some of which were widely linked to by news-aggregating sites (and the adoring public, natch.)
Sure, there were some pictures. But I like being able to scroll Google results quickly; the words more than the images tell me whether a site has what I’m looking for. Otherwise, I could use image search.

One of Cuil’s founders, Tom Costello, explained on the radio tonight – forgive me, it was on NPR but it may have been a BBC show, I forget – that the idea is to provide results different than Google's. Someone decamping from Google to Cuil shouldn’t find a merely second-hand version of the first set of results they didn’t want, he said.
But that begs the question – if Google already works well, why would someone want different results?
Admittedly, I was relieved to see slightly embarrassing articles that quote a flippant, too-cool-for-school teenager visiting Stanford during Admit Weekend were absent from Cuil’s first results. Google’s affection for the word “Stanford” – the alma mater of founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page – pushes those old, stale articles to the top of its heap. (Don’t everyone rush to go read them at once, now.)
But my chagrin at being haunted by using the word “retarded” as an adjective at age 17 immortalized forever on the Web – and now on this blog, clearly – notwithstanding, Cuil just didn’t provide very good results. One could only extrapolate I was journalist living in Germany who was mysteriously kidnapped last summer, the latest date of those first couple pages of links.
In contrast, Google tells the whole story upfront – from my childhood church to Stanford snafus to Berlin and Palo Alto. What’s not to love?
Google image licensed to Creative Commons.

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