Monday, July 28, 2008

Web Search is Cuil

A new Web search engine called Cuil was brought to my attention this morning by several sources. The reason it's been gaining consumer attention is that Cuil is actually owned by a power-couple: Anna Patterson, who headed up Google's search index and Web page ranking team; and Tom Costello, a former researcher and developer of search engines at Stanford University and IBM. Clearly these guys hope to take a big hunk out of Google's considerable search engine pie.

What makes Cuil different from other search engines, says the company, is its method of indexing. Results from a total of 120 billion Web pages are organized in such a fashion that the most relevant content appears first, rather than the sites that are most highly trafficked. It sounds like a small difference, but if Cuil were to take the lead in the web search arena, it could mean huge changes in online activity, and major benefits for smaller-scale Websites.

For example, many ad agencies base their dollar spends on not just Website ranking, but also the amount of traffic a site receives. If a site doesn't get a lot of traffic, but has really relevant content, it would, in theory, become the top-ranked result. Naturally, of course, these top ranks will eventually lead to more traffic. But if Cuil were to become the standard, it could shake things up from an advertiser perspective. More attention would have to be paid to relevant content (something that requires deep, and often subjective, analysis to measure) rather than a set of numbers.

Conversely, as smaller sites might benefit, the bigger, more highly-trafficked sites could become lower-ranked. If a site's content tends to be sporadic, quick hits that attempt to reel in users, for example, it might not make it as high in relevancy ranking. Of course the sites that will benefit from Cuil's methodology the most are those that have a nice balance of good, relevant content and high traffic.

"Cuil presents searchers with content-based results, not just popular ones," explains Costello, "providing different and more insightful answers that illustrate the vastness and the variety of the Web."

Results are organized into groups and sorted by category. While it sounds appealing, this could frustrate some that are used to the line-listing method. Search refinement suggestions are also provided to help web surfers narrow down what they're looking for.

Those sensitive about Internet security will also appreciate another facet of Cuil: since clicks have no bearing on the search results, the company will not collect any personal data on users.

I tried to give Cuil a go, but I got the following message:

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.

You'd think that with owners of such calibre, they'd have anticipated and prepared for an overwhelming response on the day of launch, but I digress...

With that said, the best I can do for now is include a screen shot of what the search page would look like (above). If you want to try giving it a go, you can visit the site at Hopefully it will be back up and running soon!

Will you try Cuil?

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