Cuil is cool, but needs some work

August 2, 2008 · 0 comments

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After reading about all the hype on Cuil, I just had to check it out.  At first, they were having technical difficulties with server load and other issues.  While that was a little frustrating, it also showed that these ex-Google engineers didn’t spend enough time or thought on a supportable infrastructure before such a large announcement.  However, I overlooked that and decided to make it my default search engine on my IE7 browser.

John Dvorak wasted little time to declare that Cuil sucks and I must agree with his technical findings, but I think it is a bit harsh to be so judgmental on a brand new product.  The thing about the web is it allows early prototype and early products to get out and show their ability without having to wait until every last bit of the product is complete.  Similarly, the article by Michael Muchmore at PC Magazine is well written but shows some of the pitfalls on most searches.  I must admit that whenever I run a detailed search, I rarely get what I am looking for and for the most part, my searches come up empty handed.  Then, I move that same search to Google and I am presented with a variety of articles and results that generally yield what I am looking for.

The concept behind Cuil, though, has the opportunity to be the search engine of the future.  If they can get their act together before Google takes a look and steals their thunder by doing it better than they can.   I also really like their privacy policy by not collecting data about users, they collect data about the web.  They don’t really talk to much about advertising or plugins to their engine, but I am sure that is coming which marketing companies will be really interested in, like Sitewire that has also done some of their own testing and declared Cuil as a second place contender in search engines.  If that is the case, I think it shows just how much distance there is between Google and the rest of the pack.

The look and feel of Cuil is cool.  As you type into the search fields, it begins to “help” you by filling in with ideas.  Type “rad” and suddenly you see “Radio Shack” as well as “Radiohead”, “Radius”, “Radiator” and a number of other items.  This really helps with users who don’t have great spelling or if you want to just get to something quick.  However, I have also noticed that if I clear that text and type again, it may or may not give me those hints.  If I refresh the page, it will start again — just another technical quirk that needs help.  Speaking about typos, the product has a strange way of trying to help you.  For example, type “san jose mercry news” when you meant to type “San Jose Mercury News”.  Cuil will respond with 25 sites for the correct spelling, but does not suggest that it was a typo or how to correct it, while Google will return 3.7M articles, and suggest a correction to the typo for refinement.

However, when Cuil is working to its best, it is great.  Type in something like “software” and you will see the tabs fly across the top of the screen giving you sub-topics of refinement to narrow your search.  By clicking on one item, like “Free Software”, gives you more refinement options and drill down with over 144 million hits on that sub-category alone.  Take another click to “Free Software Foundation” and you are down to 3M hits.  This is fantastic and a real time saver and make searching fun again.

So, I guess I am not ready to throw in the towel on this up and coming venture and the prospect of a new kid on block taking search to a new level.  Perhaps the goal was to just give us a taste of what is to come and they better warn their investors that it is going to a be a rough and expensive ride ahead.  Cuil has let the cat out of the bag on what they are up to, and as they get more attention from users, then it will get Google’s attention as well.  And when they have you in their sites, you better be ready for battle.  One interesting option would be for Microsoft to come knocking now that the Yahoo! deal seems to be dead and buried.  Stranger things have happened.

For now, I will continue to keep Cuil as my primary search engine on my browser to see how it develops.  If something new or “cool” develops, I’ll post an update.

Article by Steve Van Domelen

Steve has written 47 awesome articles.

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