Cpedia, an attempt to create automated encyclopedia-style articles from search results, was recently launched to less-than-enthusiastic reviews (including one from me). The encyclopedia was created by Cuil, a search engine that also got a less-than-positive response from users and reviewers when it launched in 2008. You might think that after the rhetorical beating Cuil (pronounced “cool”) took when it emerged into the world, founder Tom Costello might have developed a thick skin when it comes to criticism. But you would be wrong. In a long blog post responding to the bad reviews for Cpedia, the Cuil CEO — who created the search engine with his wife, former Google executive Anna Patterson — lashed out at his critics, calling them “vituperative” and “haters.”
Costello suggested that most of the criticisms came from writers who searched for their own names, but just aren’t that noteworthy, saying:
“Cpedia does very badly with people who write much more on the web than people write about them. Given the 1 billion people on the web one might think this unlikely, but it happens. When we try to summarize the information mentioning these people, we run into a problem. Almost none of it is about them. It’s about random things they have opined on. Dave Parrack, Farhad Manjoo, Louis Gray, I’m talking about you.”
The other complaint (which was the central point of my post) was that the entries simply didn’t make any sense, even when they were about someone well-known enough that there was plenty of information to pull together. In response, the Cpedia founder launched into a bizarre description of how the Christian Brothers who taught him Irish when he was a child used to beat him with straps until he got his vocabulary right, and how his Irish was technically correct but had no “blas.” That’s apparently an Irish term for the polish that players of the Irish sport of hurling get on their sticks after playing for a long time (I’m not sure that’s correct though — Wikipedia says the top of the hurling stick is called the “bas,” and an Irish dictionary says the word “blas” means “taste”).
Costello also says that what Cpedia is doing is *not* trying to pull together all the information about a topic and make sense of it — he says it’s trying to find the undiscovered, unique pieces of information, such as the fact that a VC he was meeting with apparently “has a tendency to over-imbibe.” Because the encyclopedia’s engine removes duplication, “unique ideas have more chance of coming to the top,” he says. And finally, Costello says that Cpedia “has errors” and that this is “intentional,” because “we have tried to be inclusive, and dredge to the bottom of the web.”
So if what you’re looking for is an automated encyclopedia entry that doesn’t make sense of things, intentionally has errors, and dredges the bottom of the web, then Cpedia has got what you need.
Some commenters on our post and on Twitter said that criticizing Cpedia was unfair, and that, as Hunch co-founder Chris Dixon put it, the company was trying to solve an interesting problem. And there’s no question that trying to turn search results into automated, encyclopedia-style articles is a hard problem. Will Cpedia get better and eventually solve that problem? Perhaps. But it’s a long way away from that right now.