Search Engines: Google Not Cuil

Big VC backing, big ex-Google brains, a newspaper style UI layout and results clustered based on cross-associations make Cuil a very promising new search engine. Will it be enough to steal market share from Google?

By Chris Howard
Fri, August 22, 2008

CIONow that my life is so prearranged
I know that it's time for a cool change

The Little River Band lyrics date me, I'm afraid. In these lazy days of summer, FM radio channels memories. But those lyrics seem appropriate considering the buzz recently about the announcement of Cuil, a new search engine positioned as an alternative to Google. In a time when we use a brand name (Google) to fully replace its function (search), any competitor will have an uphill fight. How many brands of facial tissue (i.e., Kleenex) can you name with confidence?

From Google's Loins

The fact that Cuil was founded by ex-Google employees has put it under more media scrutiny than other similar offerings in the past. Cuil founder Anna Patterson worked at Google to refine the index and ranking capabilities of the search engine. Joining Patterson is her husband, Tom Costello, a former researcher at Stanford, and Louis Monier, former CTO of the pre-Google search engine Alta Vista. The company, based in Menlo Park, has about 30 employees.

Cuil has a lot going for it: big VC backing, big ex-Google brains, and a big index. It has a newspaper style UI layout and relational grouping. That is, it clusters results based on cross-associations. That all sounds very promising, if not necessarily unique among Google alternatives. Other search engines like Clusty and Tafiti feel very similar to Cuil, yet they haven't grabbed the attention of the majority and certainly pose no threat to Google.

slammed in the blogosphere and the tech press, operational site issues, weak search results and strange dynamic associations between search results and images. On the day of the launch at about 3 p.m. E.T., Cuil's servers went down hard: probably not such a great thing considering the number of reporters, analysts and other influential people taking it for a test drive. It's tough to test a search engine when the error message reads, "Due to excessive load, our servers didn't return results." I can just imagine those 30 employees in Menlo Park running around putting out fires. But hey, they're not a bank. Cut them a break on day one.

Search and Ye Might Find...

Once the Cuil site was up I tried some searches, with mixed results. When I did this search on Cuil: "+burton group" "+chris howard", nothing appeared (!!!). After picking my ego up off the floor, I removed the plus signs and tried again. This was more like it, but there was one notable issue: the articles returned were spot-on, covering my recent writing and podcasts, but none of the pictures was of me:

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