Cuil Search Needs Time, Users to Fight Google

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-07-29

Cuil Search Needs Time, Users to Fight Google

Yesterday I had a devil of a time accessing new search engine Cuil from my laptop in a Manhattan office.

I assure you the location of the connection was not the issue because I was able to access Google, Bloglines and all of my usual applications from there.

I then tried Cuil last evening from home and was able to get in. I'm trying it right now, July 29, in my home office and got in after 15 seconds of waiting. I've played with it enough, so the following is what I think.

First, I, like everyone else, have found that Cuil produces fewer results for searchers. Search "The Dark Knight" on Cuil and I get almost 1.2 million results, compared with 34.7 million for Google.

The endless examples of Google producing more results don't really matter. People are making too much of this. Most searchers don't look much beyond the first 10 or 20 results anyway, so why are we considering the fact that Cuil returns millions fewer results a big deal? It isn't. This is a trivial concern, so please don't judge Cuil poorly because it offers fewer results.

Now it is for users to decide whether Cuil is returning the right results for them.

Here is what I think you should judge Cuil on: For most searches it works and works well, and it does not resemble a search engine beyond the first page. This gives users a unique experience that might be a little disruptive at first. When you enter a query, you get results the way you see written content from a modern Web site. Other bloggers called this design "magazine style."

I'll be the first to admit that this irked me initially.

I wanted plain old search results, not pieces of content with pictures and whole-paragraph synopses of what the search result contains. But then an interesting thing happened. After I kept coming back for more searches, I not only got used to it, but got to like the aesthetics of the Cuil content.

It took about 20 searches to get used to it because my eye is so trained in traditional search engine fashion to look straight down the page, rather than left to right. Did anyone else experience this, or do you still find Cuil's results pages grating on your eyes?

The autocomplete feature flat-out rocks. After typing "The Dark" en route to typing in "The Dark Knight," I was treated to 11 choices. The first five choices were The Darkness, The Dark Side, The Dark Tower, The Dark Crystal and then The Dark Knight.

Also, while commenters are complaining about search quality, I fully expected to see the official Warner Brothers Web site for "The Dark Knight" on Cuil and Google.

Readers Rate Cuil

Both Cuil and Google had it, but I'm going to give Cuil credit for rendering it first. Google had it second, followed by movie reviews. This isn't a bad thing; it's probably smart to show people what critics think of the movie. But when I search for "The Dark Knight," I want the official site first, so Cuil won on that one, barely.

However, enter "How to hit a baseball" on both and Google returns a YouTube video for beginners, while Cuil produces a segment from on hitting in the third result from the left. Google gets the edge there for most important results.

Others had varying results and experiences with Cuil.

The comments section in my piece from July 28 provided more ammunition versus Cuil, as well as some fervent supporters who are clearly tired of Google and want something new. For the record, I don't own Google stock, though I wish I had bought in early like everyone else.

"I tried accessing Cuil and it was as good if not better than Google for me," Anand wrote. "Remember that Google has had nearly 10 years of uncomparable [sic] growth. So Cuil will certainly find it that much harder now that there are quite a few of them over there in the market."

"I had no problems accessing cuil and I found it very refreshing new entrant in the search engine space," wrote an anonymous reader. "I hope users will give it the chance that it derserves [sic] rather than shoot it down day one like your unfair article."

Now for the not-so-positive experiences. One anonymous reader, who is not a Google user, wrote:  

I was able to access Cuil with no difficulty. However, I was quite disappointed with 2 of 3 searches I ran there (admittedly both of them relatively obscure)-but I ran the same searches on Google and got much better results. I do like the design of Cuil, but, unless it can come up with more relevant and thorough results than other search engines, I see no reason to use it. Back to Dogpile!

David added: 

I was fairly optimistic about cuil, as the developers were ex Google staff. The thing I was taught about launching stuff was that if it is beta for public scrutiny, feedback and testing, say so. Secondly, if you are going to skip that process or take another testing route, don't launch until most of the bugs are worked out. I am not pro Google or pro any software, hardware or company. I just like what I like. I'm sure cuil will get it together, but soon is the word on the street. To type in well known and popular search parameters, and not even have anything remotely related come up is to head down the same road as Excite and WebCrawler. I am positive the folks at cuil are working feverishly to sort things, and I am looking forward to having an alternative engine at my finger tips. It will be interesting to see what, if any portable apps they will be rolling out.

Remember, folks, this is early days for Cuil. Your feedback will be instrumental in shaping the site in the years to come. Expect advanced search capabilities, but in the meantime just appreciate the distinct lack of advertising on the site.

But don't get too comfortable; it's only a matter of time before Cuil looks to monetize with ads to see some return on the $33 million investment venture capitalists have made in the company.

Who can say if users will drop Google for Cuil? That's up to all of us. What side of the fence are you on?

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