Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cuil (Not Really)

New search engine not likely to make anyone at Google lose sleep


Well, I suppose by now you've caught yesterday's news about Cuil, a new search engine created by some Google alumni. I must say, I was pretty excited. Heck, I used to try a Yahoo! search, an Ask.com search, a Dogpile search, an AltaVista search — just whatever I felt like that day to mix things up. But that was back in the day when all search engines seemed equal — back when you still "searched" instead of "Googled." Now that Google is a household name, I was eager to try something that promised to be different from, perhaps even better than, Google, yet was created by people who had been involved at the search engine giant.

I immediately rushed to Cuil.com, pronounced "cool," thus explaining the headline for this blog post. Now that you understand that, I guess you probably can guess that I was disappointed at my first glance. I did a couple of searches I normally run on Google, and I found that I wasn't as pleased with the results — they just weren't nearly as relevant. Some of the terms I used only yielded one or two pages, but Google gives me a couple dozen pages of results, all relevant, with the same search terms. At first, I did like Cuil's interface. It seems sleek and shiny, sort of the Mac of search engines. Unfortunately, when you actually try using it, you find it's still sort of in a clunky stage.

Cuil gives you tabs at the top of your window with related searches, but honestly, if I wanted to know about X-Men 2 (the movie) instead of Uncanny X-Men (the comic), then I would've just searched X-Men 2 instead, perhaps utilizing some good old Boolean. The engine also provides a box that invites you to "Explore By Category," so I get a box full of multiple drop-down menus when I search "X-Men," with such listings such as X-Men comics (the different titles put out by marvel), X-Men mutants (with names of various characters) and even X-Men storylines (with the runs written as continued stories grouped together, such as the recent "Civil War" storyline). These category explorations are definitely neat, but I don't think they would have much practical use when doing day-to-day searches for certain facts, addresses, news stories, etc.

The last problem I had with Cuil is the layout. Normally, I'd be all about sticking it to the man (in this case Google), but this just added to the functionality problems Cuil has. With Google, you get a clean, ranked listing of results. With Cuil, you get a choice between two or three columns of misaligned results (albeit with a thumbnail photo) from which you can't really discern where they rank. So far, Cuil just seems too flashy with useless features and a strange layout (not to mention not-so-great search results). The engine's proprietors claim it indexes more Web pages than Google, but from what I've read, Google hasn't disclosed such numbers in a while and still claims it indexes the most.

I also found this article from ABC News, which was written earlier today, that had this to say after testing Cuil (the article also reports Cuil had some intermittent outages when it launched yesterday):
On Google, a search for giraffe brought up a Wikipedia entry for giraffes, a link to the San Diego Zoo and the Giraffe Heroes Project. On Cuil, a search for giraffe — which took quite a long time to surface — brought up a Wikipedia entry to the video game "Space Giraffe," and categories like "The #1 Ladies Detective Agency" and "Children's Book by Roald Dahl."

A search for movie times (no quotes) on Google brings up Fandango, movies.msn.com and movies.aol.com. On Cuil, a search brings up those listings, but also a Times of London story about Stephen Hawking appearing in a movie.
Perhaps the only good thing about Cuil is that they are not supposedly tracking users' activities online as Google does. (If you didn't know that... where have you been? Ever wonder why you get such "relevant" ads and such?) Personally, I'm willing to let Google try to sell me something and learn a little bit about my online activities as long as they keep making Gmail and other additional features great (I also love my customizable iGoogle user page, complete with the news headlines and other things I want displayed in real time). That's one other problem with Cuil; it's just solely a search engine. But most of all, it just isn't Google.


angelaysabelle said...

After 5 months in existence, Cuil failed miserably in its goal. Personally, i don't like its magazine-style. I prefer simple layouts like that of Find.com.

JD said...

Have you tried Google Chrome? I realize it's a browser and not a search site, but I like how the top bar can be used as a search option or the URL. Everything is very, VERY simple, and it has a very minimalistic look. I tried it out on a friend's PC, and I can't wait until it's released on the Mac!