When it comes to Internet search, Google is the undisputed champion. In fact, Google is so dominant that the appearance of any new challenger is typically received with doubt and even scorn.
But while Google clearly rules search, it does have some weaknesses. Talk to any regular user of the Web and you’ll likely hear some dissatisfaction when it comes to searching with Google. In fact, while Google has been focusing on online applications and other new technologies, its core search interface hasn’t changed much in the last few years.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that we have seen in recent months the launch of several challengers to Google’s search crown, such as Jimmy Wales’ Wikia Search.
The latest challenger is called Cuil (pronounced Cool), and while it isn’t that groundbreaking, it does offer some clear differences from Google. And if you think that no new challenger can ever dethrone Google, remember, many people said the same thing about a little company’s chances of knocking out Yahoo and Alta Vista.
The biggest claim in comparison with Google is the size of Cuil’s index, which Cuil says is at 120 billion pages, in comparison with Google’s 40 billion. However, from a user perspective the biggest difference-makers for Cuil are its interface and how it performs its searches.
Cuil provides attractive results in two or three columns with good details for each result that include images from the pages (which weren’t always relevant to the search or the page). I found this to be a nice way to browse search results, though it is hardly new. In fact, there are browser extensions that provide very similar interface layers for Google.
Also, on some searches Cuil provides a rich category box that makes it possible to drill down into related searches that Cuil has precategorized. So, for example, my search for Marshall amplifiers offered related searches on other amp manufacturers as well as bands known for using Marshalls.
More interesting is that, rather than using the complex page rank indexing that Google uses, which provides results based to a large degree on how the rest of the Web sees a page, Cuil uses the more old-school method of looking for keywords in the content itself. This is in many ways still an excellent way to do a search and in my limited tests provided some better results when compared with Google.
Of course, in the old days this led to Web pages stocked with keywords of dubious relevance in order to show up in searches. It remains to be seen if Cuil will fall victim to similar tactics.
Probably the biggest drawback to Cuil in its current, essentially beta, iteration is its slowness. Many of the searches I performed bogged down and in some cases a search said there were no results available but when I immediately reran the search I did receive results.
We’ll see if Cuil can become a legitimate challenger to Google’s title of search champion, but for now it does provide an interesting alternative.
Those interested in trying out Cuil for themselves can go to www.cuil.com.