Peter VanRysdam / Digital Marketing / July 29th, 2008

How Cool is Cuil?

If you read any tech news yesterday, you no doubt saw several articles about www.Cuil.com, the latest in a long line of google wanna-bees.  What makes this one special?  Only that one of the founders is an ex-googler herself.  Big deal.  So I decided not to join the love-fest, partially because everyone else had, and partially because I had some issues with the site.  PC Magazine, however, was, well, not as nice.

Check out this article from late yesterday:

The New Cuil Search Engine Sucks
John C. Dvorak – PC Magazine Mon Jul 28, 1:18 PM ET

If you are going to roll out a new search engine, please try to make one that has more going for it than a silly name and cheap, misleading PR. Thus we have Cuil, the search engine rolled out this last week by some ex-Google folks who see a market opportunity. While all the people involved seem competent and have great resumes, the site itself out-and-out stinks.

It’s buggy. It’s slow. It seems hand-tweaked in odd ways. Worse, it requires exact spelling. Use lower case on a proper name and it can come up empty (but not always).

But it’s the apparent fiddling with the results that bother me the most. Here’s where it gets funny. Type in “Sergey Brin” (the founder of Google) and you get back a whopping “250 results for Sergey Brin”; yes, 250. And they are mediocre hits, many dating back to his Stanford days in the 1990s. There is an “Explore by Category” box, which won’t help me find out anything about Brin, from what I can tell. It’s pathetic. On Google you get 1.5 million hits. And if you think that’s because of Google bias, on MSN Search you get over 3 million hits.

This is pathetic, since Cuil founder Anna Patterson has 11,381 results for herself. And the top search hit is her glowing bio on the Cuil site itself. What a coincidence! Try finding a Brin bio. Then if you search for Louis Monier, the ex-Googler and go-to man at Alta Vista who is now working at Cuil, he gets over 13,000 hits, many with flattering pics that are of other people.

Wow…I don’t think he likes it.  But he does make some great points.  I had the same issue with the sporadic results, as well as a few other concerns.  Take a look at this screenshot for example:

OK, first things first, look at the number of results on the top right.  Over 500,000, which sounds about right for this popular camcorder.  However, only four results show up.  Look at the paging in the bottom left: there’s only one page!  Is my math that bad?

So I removed “camcorder” from the query.  The result?  48,XXX results.  I’m sorry…make the search broader and get less results?  That ain’t right.  Neither is the fact that I now have two pages of results, and the second page says “No results found!”  Huh? 

Aside from the obvious bugs, I do like the overall layout of the results.  In theory, that is.  In practice, it’s not working so well.  It grabs text, which appears to be meta-data, and an image (I’m sure they’re trying to get a logo) which is commonly a “home” or “about us” button.  Not the visual I’m looking for.  What’s wrong with a screen cap of the site?

One thing they are getting right: do a search for “web design company.”  You’ll see our site first.  Not bad.  That’s why I’m rooting for them to fix these bugs and be the google killer they so want to be.  Who doesn’t like a good underdog story?

All they had to do was release this as a beta and nobody would be upset at all the bugs.  As it is though, I think most people, like me, will play with it for 5 minutes and move on, never to see this site again.  It isn’t the first google-clone to come out, and it won’t be the last.  Unless you have Microsoft money behind you (live.com) or an incompetent board of directors and longevity (yahoo.com), you don’t stand a chance.

One small footnote…CNN did a video peice comparing Cuil to Google.  It includes brilliant observations like “Where Google is white, Cuil is black.”  No joke.  Even funnier, it’s from the editor of the same magazine that tore the site apart – PC Magazine.