Another Search Engine Revs Up

Stephen DeAngelis

August 6, 2008

Every six months or so it seems that a company introduces a new search engine in hopes of competing with Google and other big search engine sites [see my posts Globalization’s Competitive Landscape and Wikiasari, Web 2.0, and Other Search Engines]. In the first post, I noted that the combatants in the search engine struggle included (in addition to Google), Microsoft, Yahoo, and Ask.com. The focus of the post was Ask.com, which started life as Ask Jeeves. The post also mentions companies like Lycos, Alta Vista, and HotBot. I’m sure there are others of which I’m not aware or use little, like Hakia. Another search engine has now entered the fray [“Former Employees of Google Prepare Rival Search Engine,” by Miguel Helft, New York Times, 28 July 2008]. As the headline of Helft’s article reveals, the pedigree of this new search engine is impressive.

“In her two years at Google, Anna Patterson helped design and build some of the pillars of the company’s search engine, including its large index of Web pages and some of the formulas it uses for ranking search results. Now, along with her husband, Tom Costello, and a few other Google alumni, she is trying to upstage her former employer. On [28 July], their company, Cuil, … unveil[ed] a search engine that they promise will be more comprehensive than Google’s and that they hope will give its users more relevant results.”

To test the search engine, I did a search for my company, Enterra Solutions. Cuil returned 11,076 hits and scanning the first 10 pages of results, they all appeared relevant to the search. I must admit, however, that I was a bit baffled by the images that accompanied the hits. Some were relevant and some seemed oddly out of place. For web surfers used to seeing the results provided by Google, they should be pleasantly surprised by results presented by Cuil. They are presented in an attractive and easy to read format. Whether this is enough to make a dent in the search engine market remains to be seen.

“Cuil, pronounced ‘cool,’ is only the latest in a long string of start-up companies that have been founded and financed with the goal of competing with Google, as well as Yahoo and Microsoft. (In June, Google accounted for 61.5 percent of search queries in the United States, while Yahoo held 20.9 percent and Microsoft had 9.2 percent, according to comScore.) Some of the most prominent include Powerset, which Microsoft recently bought, and Wikia, which was founded by Jimmy Wales, one of the creators of Wikipedia. So far, none have managed to make a dent in the search market.”

Analysts, however, are not writing off Cuil as simply another contender that is going to get crushed by the reigning champ.

“Some analysts say Cuil has potential, in part because of the pedigree of its founders. ‘This is the most promising thing I’ve seen in a while,’ said Danny Sullivan, who has followed the online search business for more than a decade and is the editor of Search Engine Land. ‘Whether they are going to threaten Microsoft, much less Google, that’s another story.’ Mr. Costello, a former researcher at Stanford, said that with 120 billion Web pages, Cuil’s search index is larger than any other. The company uses a form of data mining to group Web pages by content, which makes the search engine more efficient, he said. Instead of showing results as short snippets of text and images with links, it displays longer entries and uses more pictures. It also provides tools to help users further refine their queries. … Mr. Sullivan said he was unimpressed by Cuil’s claim that its index includes more Web pages, noting that that could mean users are ‘overwhelmed by a whole bunch of junk.’ But he said that Cuil’s new approach to ranking pages and presenting results could prove to be a hit with some users. ‘If it turns out that they have good relevancy, I could see that the word of mouth’ would bring Cuil some popularity, he said.”

As Mr. Costello says earlier in the article, the success of Cuil is in the hands of users. With $33 million of venture capital sunk into the enterprise to date, some pretty big bets have been made that Cuil will succeed where others have failed.