Today the Internet is very much alive and buzzing with news that there’s a new kid on the block. It’s all about a new search engine called Cuil launched today. Developed and run by the husband-and-wife team of Stanford professor Tom Costello and former Google search architect Anna Patterson, Cuil is pitched as being bigger, faster, and better than Google’s flagship search engine in pretty much every way.
Anna Patterson’s last Internet search engine was so impressive that industry leader Google Inc. bought the technology in 2004 to upgrade its own system. She believes her latest invention is even more valuable—only this time it’s not for sale. Patterson instead intends to upstage Google, which she quit in 2006 to develop a more comprehensive and efficient way to scour the Internet.
Patterson joined Google in 2004 after she built and sold Recall, a search index that probed old Web sites for the Internet Archive. Patterson enjoyed her time at Google, but became disenchanted with the company’s approach to search. “Google has looked pretty much the same for 10 years now,” she said, “and I can guarantee it will look the same a year from now.”
Cuil is pronounced “cool.” Backed by $33 million in venture capital, the search engine started processing requests for the first time early this morning. Tom Costello’s—Anna Patterson’s husband—Irish heritage inspired Cuil’s odd name. It was derived from a character named Finn McCuill in Celtic folklore. Cuil is also an old Irish word for knowledge.
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 are presented in a more magazine-like format instead of just a vertical list 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.
Cuil is just the latest in a long line of Google challengers. The list includes swaggering startups like Teoma (whose technology became the backbone of Ask.com), Vivisimo, Snap, Mahalo and, most recently, Powerset, which was acquired by Microsoft Corp. this month. Even after investing hundreds of millions of dollars on search, both Microsoft and Yahoo Inc. have been losing ground to Google. Through May 2008, Google held a 62 percent share of the U.S. search market followed by Yahoo at 21 percent and Microsoft at 8.5 percent, according to comScore Inc.
Google welcomed Cuil to the fray with its usual mantra about its rivals. “Having great competitors is a huge benefit to us and everyone in the search space,” Watson said. “It makes us all work harder, and at the end of the day our users benefit from that.”
As a business proposition, Cuil is obviously a big challenge. While search is a monetizable business, it’s hard to change the behavior of a generation of Web users who think “Google” is a verb. No other search engine has come close to entering the public consciousness like this. Of course, Cuil doesn’t have to trounce Google on day one. It took Google quite some time to surpass Alta Vista and Yahoo in the search wars.
“The taste is in the pudding”. People will love or hate Cuil by the way it handles their information thirst. Only time will tell if Cuil will be a killer application or just a flash in the pan. Adieu!