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Cuil Finally Gets Going

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These days, anyone starting a search-related effort almost certainly has to deal with the G-Factor. Are they trying to take on Google? How are they going to beat that awesome search-and-advertising money machine from Mountain View, Calif.? It is hardly a surprise that Anna Patterson, president and co-founder of Menlo Park, Calif.-based Cuil (pronounced cool), has been fielding those questions from the media, as the company gets ready to launch on Monday, July 28.

The company, which has raised about $33 million in two rounds of founding from Madrone Capital Partners, Tugboat Ventures and Greylock Partners, has been the subject of much speculation in Silicon Valley, mostly because of founders’ (Patterson, Tom Costello and Russell Power) pedigrees — not to mention some well-known search luminaries who have joined the company.

Patterson, for instance, was the technical lead of Googlebase and helped form Google’s TeraGoogle search index. She had worked at before joining Google. Costello had developed an early version of WebFountain. Power also worked on TeraGoogle. Former Altavista CTO Louis Monier is also at Cuil. The company had gotten into a spot of bother earlier this year when it started to crawl in what can be described as an ungentlemanly manner, prompting a few thousand sites to ban its crawler. Despite all that, it is still one of the more interesting companies to watch.

During his keynote address at a search industry trade show earlier this year, Monier had noted that “search engines can be used for more than just navigation.” It is becoming increasingly evident that the battle of navigation has been all but won by Google. However, Monier and his cohorts at Cuil are betting that the company can use new information retrieval-and-dissemination technologies to overcome the information overload on the Internet.

My big belief is that “serendipity” is the right way to go as we continue to get immersed (and drowned) in information. From that perspective, Cuil might be on the right track. Patterson stopped by at our San Francisco offices last week to give us a brief overview of the company and how it works.

How it works is that company has an index of around 120 billion pages (which is a lot smaller that what Google claims) that is sorted on dedicated machines, each one tasked with conducting topic-specific search — for instance, health, sports or travel. This approach allows them to sift through the web faster (and probably cheaper) than Google, which still enjoys a huge infrastructure advantage over its rivals. The results of those specific searches are then funneled to the search results page, which looks more like a magazine web site than the search results page we are so used to seeing on, say, Google or Yahoo.

I have no clarity on Cuil’s infrastructure; we couldn’t get into the details because our meeting was quite brief. I do know that while indexing is the easy part, analyzing and displaying all the information is extremely resource-intensive and was one of the main reasons why Powerset took Microsoft’s money.

The search results showed off by the company executives seemed pretty accurate and useful, but since I didn’t get to test them myself, I can’t vouch for their veracity. When I asked Patterson about the challenge of consumer adoption, she countered that most people are willing to try new search services. She feels confident that searching on Cuil will win them over.

71 Responses to “Cuil Finally Gets Going”

  1. Obichime Awunor

    Well I think Google would be beaten. I know Microsoft and Yahoo would be stocking their arsenals now with enough ammunition for a respectable bid. I just think Cuil will hold onto break new grounds. We have got some sort of competition at last.

    You know I always though Microsoft’s’ bid for Yahoo was quite half hearted, Its all making some sense now.

  2. Cuil will get far better than what Google is today in about 5 years. Okay, perhaps 2.

    Who cares? What are we searching for anyway? How about searching for peace, eliminating poverty, racism, injustices. We know where they are?

    Help us refine it Cuil. Perhaps then, you will be worth all this trouble.

  3. I just ran a few test searches on CUIL. I was disappointed with the relevance of the results to the search terms. No matter what kind of slick interface is used, the most important feature of a search engine is the accuracy of the results… that’s why Google dominated the competition to begin with… Google has always been a plain-looking site, with almost no bells or whistles… but do you remember searching before Google? I remember searching through page after page of results because so few of the results were relevant.

  4. frank sparacino

    i should further point as others have alluded to, that i wonder if there’s some ‘blocking’ of CUIL going on?! & yeah, i don’t like the name either…

  5. frank sparacino

    well i went to check CUIL out & i think they r beginning with some problems… perhaps due to traffic, etc.
    i had trouble loading HOME page, etc. & it’s been S-L-O-W.

  6. Veereign

    I guess Cuil has to be more innovative to take on Google. However, to be more wiser, I guess they should concentrate more on giving more to the public – what they want and what they seek, rather than extensively focusing on beating Google. The subject here is better results for people, and not beating Google. That will happen eventually, once better search result system is developed.

    Good Luck Cuil! And Google has no reason to panic, as long as it gives public what public wants, Google’s safe….

  7. Does anyone else think their name is, well, kind of lame? Sure, people said the same thing about “Google” when it launched, but at least you didn’t have to learn how to pronounce (or spell) G-O-O-G-L-E.

  8. I tried cuil with a random search, tibet as i am planning on travelling to this country, but apparently the chinese government supports this new search engine as ‘no results’ appeared on my screen…..

  9. “Menlo Park, Calif.-based Cuil (pronounced cool)”

    Gimme a break – they’re obviously going to crash and burn with such a stoopid name… ;-)

  10. mindsconnect

    Actually the black front page may do well for them if they take off. Good contrast to the whiteness of Google.

    Cuil is ok. Not as amazing as hyped up. I did a bit more research and wrote about it today on the blog, shortly after discovering it. They seem to over index and under deliver. I’m sure it’ll improve in time. $33 million in funding, with ex Google employees and a great concept.

    But will it kill Google? lol… i v much doubt it!!

    Vince (HongKongWong.Com)

    Read my full post on Cuil here:

  11. @Sidharth & @Kris this is rather strange for before going to sleep it was working just fine and there was a very clear search page for “om malik” that was pretty accurate and picked up all the relevant information from across the web. I think they are having first day issues – people writing about them and trying them out. first rule of start-up launch: don’t go bad like a four day old banana on day one.

  12. Sidharth

    Om , a search for Om Malik throws up a BLANK PAGE. One of the best tech blogger is not found on Cuil. Well begun it is said is half done. But for cuil it is definitely not well begun. And this after all the hype that it generated

  13. At 9:28am BST the site is down:

    We’ll be back soon…

    Due to overwhelming interest, our Cuil servers are running a bit hot right now. The search engine is momentarily unavailable as we add more capacity.

    Thanks for your patience.

  14. Cuil is a big failure in its first test. Being in software testing, I searched for “testing life cycle” and the little cuil said “We didn’t find any results for “testing life cycle””

  15. Google doesn’t claim their index is much bigger then 120 billion pages. In their post they say:
    “We don’t index every one of those trillion pages — many of them are similar to each other, or represent auto-generated content similar to the calendar example that isn’t very useful to searchers”
    It is actually estimated in the tens of billions. So it is actually Cuil that is claiming the bigger index which is obviously wrong. I queried: “Just ask a group of teen internet entrepreneurs” in both, Google gave 283 results and Cuil none..

  16. Sidharth

    I thinks Googles index is atleast 10 times bigger than Cuil. Sachin Tendulkar returns 200K pages on Cuil but 2.2 million pages on Google. Even TC says the same for Apple and Dog queries. I personally like the Google format much better than Cuil since it seems very cluttered.

  17. michael s

    Relevancy: It works fine for “head” queries e.g. batman, harvard university, new york hotels, etc. but for tail queries “flights sfo to ord” or “san francisco real estate market trends” the relevancy still needs lots of work.

    Presentation: While I believe that new UI experiences for search are needed and welcome this multi-column approach is not very efficient — a single column is still be far more efficient way to process information (email, blogs, search engines) have all provent that vertical lists are the most efficient way to process information quickly.

    Serendipity: Love this in concept the only product that is doing a fairly decent job at this is techmeme

  18. Om — I had heard about Cuil from some friends in the VC community. They kept telling me that it would supplant google in a couple years; I never believed them. But after looking at it tonight, I understand what they are saying. I don’t know if it will overtake google, but it is certainly more understandable and comprehensive than that dinosaur. Thank goodness someone finally had the guts to stand up to them. Good luck to Cuil and anyone else who wants to challenge google. We deserve better.