Ex Google Staffers Launch Cuil Search With Spotty Access

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-07-28

Ex Google Staffers Launch Cuil Search With Spotty Access

This morning around 8 a.m. EDT, I entered www.cuil.com to check out search startup Cuil (pronounced "cool" and derived from an Irish word for knowledge), which July 28 launched its own unique approach to organizing the ridiculous glut of information on the Web.

My point was to learn what I could about the company, its founders and its overall approach before giving it a spin. In this matter, I succeeded. What I didn't try at the time was the search engine. I figured there would be plenty enough time for that later when I was more awake to test it.

Boy, was that a judgment error. I haven't been able to get in since, which is a major problem for a company that wants to nibble at Google's 70 percent search market share in the U.S. I'm not suffering from delusions; TechCrunch had a hard time getting in earlier today, too.

As a startup comprised largely of former Googleers, Cuil should know it can't prebrief tons of technology reporters, get lots of press about being a Google killer, and then launch a search engine that won't let everyone who wants to try it access it.

Yet that is exactly what Cuil has done. What a shame. In the meantime, here's the background on Cuil.

Cuil the company was created by Stanford University graduates Tom Costello, CEO, and his wife, Anna Patterson, who is president and COO.

Costello researched and developed search engines at Stanford University and IBM, while Patterson was most recently an architect of the Google's large search index and led a Web page ranking team.

Patterson and Costello felt limited by the constraints of the company's traditional link analysis and traffic ranking, which picks the 10 most popular links. So, the duo created Cuil and have impressed investors enough to bank $33 million in venture capital funding.  

Cuil's technology analyzes the context of each page and the concepts behind each query. It then organizes any similar search results into groups and sorts them by category in three columns across the page in magazine-style fashion.

What does this mean for users? In short, better search results, though TechCrunch and several others who have tested Cuil said the superior search result claims are overrated.

Cuil also offers unique organizing features, such as tabs to clarify subjects, images to identify topics and "search refining suggestions" to help guide users to the results they seek.

Ex Google Staffers Launch Cuil Search With Spotty Access

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Here is another detail that is sure to thrill privacy paranoiacs obsessed with how much information Google stores about them: by ranking pages based on content instead of clicks, Cuil doesn't collect IP addresses or search histories.

This is a fine distinction, but not one that will help Cuil target users with more relevant advertising the way Google has with user information. But maybe that has no bearing. Cuil will try to beat Google by being not only better but bigger, and for less money.

How broad is Cuil? In indexing more than 120 billion Web pages, Cuil claims it combines the biggest Web index with the ability to render relevant results by analyzing Web page content. Cuil said Google indexes about 40 billion pages.

Google won't reveal the number of pages it indexes, but in a side note, the company July 25 launched a preemptive strike to Cuil when it announced that its systems that process links on the Web topped the 1 trillion unique URLs mark.

The blog post, from Google software engineers Jesse Alpert and Nissan Hajaj, made light of the number of pages indexed quotient, noting:

We don't index every one of those trillion pages -- many of them are similar to each other, or represent auto-generated content... that isn't very useful to searchers. But we're proud to have the most comprehensive index of any search engine, and our goal always has been to index all the world's data.

Even if Cuil indexes three times as many Web pages as Google, the search leader needn't worry. If users can't access the content through Cuil, there is no threat. For Cuil, the promise of better search is nullified by our inability to access it.

Moreover, Yahoo, Microsoft and Ask.com, the other three larger top-line search engines, have tried desperately and in vain to make changes to topple Google.

They've had little success; Google has continued to grow market share worldwide. Microsoft went so far as to snap up Powerset to help its lackluster search share. Perhaps Yahoo or some other company will grab Cuil for the same reason.

No matter. How many companies have launched promising better approaches to something Google does? Proximic, for one, claims to provide better contextual advertising than Google.

To this point, Google has smote all challengers.


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