“Cuil.” You know the word as it is pronounced — cool — as an adjective. But the founders are hoping that someday you’ll know it as a verb, as in “Let me Cuil that.”
Founded by Anna Patterson, the woman who sold her last Internet search engine technology to Google, the new search engine was created in conjunction with former Google engineers, including her husband. The project, whose search index reportedly spans 120 billion web pages, has been in stealth mode until now. Information on the site notes that, “Cuil searches more pages on the Web than anyone else — three times as many as Google and ten times as many as Microsoft.” According to the Associated Press, which interviewed Patterson, it works like this:
“Rather than trying to mimic Google’s method of ranking the quantity and quality of links to Web sites, Patterson says Cuil’s technology drills into the actual content of a page. And Cuil’s results will be presented in a more magazine-like format instead of just a vertical stack of Web links. Cuil’s results are displayed with more photos spread horizontally across the page and include sidebars that can be clicked on to learn more about topics related to the original search request.”
The search engine company doesn’t use the word “semantic web standards” in its own explanation of how the technology works. But clearly it is driven by semantics in the larger sense of the word. According to the web site, “our approach is to focus on the content of a page and then present a set of results that has both depth and breadth. Our aim is to give you a wider range of more detailed results and the opportunity to explore more fully the different ideas behind your search. We think this approach is more useful to you than a simple list. So Cuil searches the Web for pages with your keywords and then we analyze the rest of the text on those pages. This tells us that the same word has several different meanings in different contexts. Are you looking for jaguar the cat, the car or the operating system? We sort out all those different contexts so that you don’t have to waste time rephrasing your query when you get the wrong result.”
Once it has established the context of the pages, the theory is that it’s in a much better position to help users in their search.
How much better? The critics have already been casting stones, noting that the search engine’s servers crashed recently in response to the load being generated by curious searchers, and also bashed it for some inaccurate connections, such as providing “Hispanic American politicians” as a subcategory for a search of “Obama.” So, nobody’s perfect, though we should note that if you explore that category under “Bill Richardson,” you are indeed directed to content that links Obama and Richardson. More interesting was that the sub-category Presidential Primaries under Obama named only Super Tuesday, New Hampshire primary, and primary election, while under John McCain the Iowa Caucus also was included. Both notations still leave out a few states — but in most election years they haven’t counted anyway, right? Search under United States Presidential Primaries as your starting point, and you get only one link and no sub-category options, a far cry from the rich feast of links delivered by Google.
The semantic search engine is backed by $33 million in venture capital. Money well-spent? It may be too early to say, but the Motley Fool seems to think differently. Tim Byers, in a High-Growth Investing blog posting titled Google is Cooler Than Cuil, says this:
“Cuil is an indexer; a Google clone that decided to sift through three times more of the Web’s garbage than others have. What’s to stop Microsoft, Yahoo, or IAC’sAsk.com from doing the same? Answer: Nothing.”