Tuesday, 29 July 2008

A not-so-cuil new Google...

It's not heresy trying to challenge Google. But if you try, you better be really good at it, because Google hasn't found its way into the Oxford English Dictionary for nothing.

Every once in a while new search engines come along and promise to redefine the way we search the internet and to deliver much more relevant results to whatever one is after.

This week, the new entry in this long list, which includes a lot of recently or not-so-recently departed endeavours is cuil.com which apparently is pronounced cool and is the Galic word for knowledge. In my view, Galic serves a bit of a niche market, so I was wondering whether cuil does in fact have more of a mass appeal than the rather guttural language it is derived from.

Trying it out, the first thing that is striking is the very simple interface - effectively just a box to type in the search words. A little bit like Google, huh? Far from it, because the background is - BLACK! So much for distinguishing yourself from your competitors. As a side note, the company has been set up by former Google employees, which probably explains the similiarities and the publicity it is getting.

The front page claims that cuil searches about 120 billion pages, compared to Google at about 40bn, although this number is not confirmed. As some techie put it, simply searching a bigger haystack does not make it easier to find the needle, nor does it guarantee that you find one at all.

Trying out my own name in a classic bit of search engine testing, I came out around number 20, not as high as with the white-backgrounded friends from Silicon Valley, but still ok. However, you immediately see that the results are presented differently, namely in columns like in a magazine, even with pictures. Looks nice, but apparently a US physicist's search for his name came out with a picture of a naked soldier pleasing himself in the column next to his research. So the type of presentation can be a bit of a mixed bag.

Then I searched for my wife and something strange happened: I typed in half her name and got a result showing her full name. Then I typed in her full name and it responded that there were no results. That, I thought was weird. Although it did have the results (and was showing them before), it didn't return them. Maybe the haystack is just too big.

Furthermore, it has the feature that it suggests searches while you type. I typed "Here is the" and it suggested "Here is the City". Fine, I thought, but then the search for it didn't return anything related at all which seems fairly anti-climactic.

After the first test drive, given the choice of Black v. White, I might still err on the side of White. And I cannot quite see the Oxford English Dictionary including "to cuil" as a verb for systematically searching the web anytime soon.

On a lighter note, the name has already triggered discussions what it is most likely going to be misspelled as.

And I spare any comments about the similarities of the Galic word for knowledge and the French word for bottom.