Cuil – Another Look

“A new search engine! OMFG!!!!”

That seems to be the reaction that a lot of people have whenever a new search engine comes out. There’s a huge fuss about it; Digg, Slashdot, and eventually CNN and MSNBC pick up on it, and everyone holds the new engine up for inspection and dissection. Which is exactly what I’m about to do.

Cuil has received a lot of bad press. Almost everyone has the opinion that “It’s totally not Google.” I don’t think it was their intention to be Google, but to provide something different. Their main focus (at least for now) it seems to me, is to allow you to research something. If you want to find the address of Joes Barber Shop on Main Street, go use Google. If you need to learn about something that you have little knowledge of, use Cuil.

The Name is Stupid

You hear this a lot from people who are bashing Cuil. From the Cuil site:

“Cuil is an old Irish word for knowledge.”

I’m fine with that. In fact, I’m surprised that domain name wasn’t already taken and populated by one of those annoying domain sitters that just buys a domain and puts up random advertising links hoping you’ll click one. In this state of Internet affairs, if you can find a four letter domain name, and it happens to have actual meaning related to your intended business, good for you.

But how do I spell it? It’s pronounced ‘Cool’ but spelled ‘Cuil’.

Personally, since the first news story I saw about it I haven’t forgotten how to spell it. I didn’t have to Google for “new search engine spelled like cool” to find it. I just typed it in. Digg has two Gs, flickr is spelled wrong, yet these sites are doing fine.

Their Search Algorithm Sucks

This is another common complaint. Their search algorithms do provide some random failures, you don’t always gets the correct results, or any results at all, when you search for something that you know exists. You can always tweak the algorithm, and I’m sure they will. However, I think this lack of results might be in part intentional, or at least part of the plan; a way to differentiate themselves from Google.

“Lack of results is a feature?”

Yes. As part of my hypothesis that Cuil is meant for research about something that you know very little about I decided to research the “History of South Africa”. Deciding on a topic took a long time as I am quite knowledgeable on very many subjects. However, on a recent adventure I met a bartender from Cape Town, South Africa. I knew very little about South Africa apart from its geographic location (hint: It’s in Southern Africa, no need to jump over to Google Maps yet). This will be a perfect test for my comparison I decided.

First Search

I typed “History of South Africa” into both Cuil and Google. Cuil provided 129,408 results, Google provided “about” 15,700,000 results. Already the culling (Cuiling?) of the results is apparent. I wonder what could possibly be relevant to the History of South Africa on the fifteen-millionth Google result? To be fair, the one-hundred-twenty-nine-thousandth result is probably not much better, but the point about culling is still made I think.

The presentation is obviously different. Cuil uses a magazine-type layout, while Google uses their tried-and-true list of results, along with advertisements on the right. Both have similar results, with the Wikipedia article “History of South Africa” being near the top (top-middle column in Cuil, first result in Google).

However, the research-oriented approach of Cuil becomes apparent immediately. In the top right is a category suggestion box that lets you see some recommended categories. Are you looking for “Afrikaners”, “South African Politicians”, and more. Curious what an “Afrikaner” is I hovered over that. The category popped open with more search suggestions for Afrikaners like “Boer Republics” (some type of wild pig party association I’m assuming), “Voortrekkers”, and other creatively named items.

The point anyway, is that Google does not provide this. There really is no way for Google to suggest avenues of research about your topic. Maps of History of South Africa? Sure. The first result there is a map of the United States, the first pushpin being “University of South Florida – Center for Africa and Diaspora”, whatever. I had more luck with Google images, one provided a nice 1024 x 1220 map of South Africa. However, the utility of random images during a research task may be fairly low. I’d have to visit the sites that these images are coming from, it could very well be “Joe Shmoe’s PhotoShopped South Africa Map”. You can also search for news. Although in this context I don’t think there will be very much “News on the History of South Africa”


I’d better have a conclusion an a blog entry about research eh? I’m curious to see where Cuil ends up. When their initial investment cash dries up will the VCs be willing to invest more? We’ll see. Personally, I think it would be nice to have an alternative to the Google Monster, but getting a piece of that market share is like trying to eat away at Microsoft. I don’t hate Google by any means. I have a gMail account, I’ll keep using Google maps to get directions and spy on my neighbors, and for the time being I’ll probably keep Google as my home page. But if I need to find out more about Voortrekkers, I might head back to Cuil.