Cuil vs. Google: no contest so far

By Carol Eisenberg

July 29, 2008 at 11:35am

Cuil isn’t the first, and it won’t be the last startup to experience embarrassing bugs - including an out-and-out crash - on its first day out.

The new search engine, which styles itself a David versus Goliath battling Google to become new industry leader, and boasts former Google engineers among its founders, had a less-than-stellar first day.

“We’ll be back soon. . .” the site said yesterday afternoon after tens of thousands gave it a whirl after seeing stories in PC World and the New York Times - triggering a complete meltdown of the site.

“Cuil shows us how not to launch a search engine,” sniped CNET.

Cuil’s media campaign apparently promised more than the search engine could deliver, but after all the hype about its massive index (120 billion web pages) and $33 million in backing from venture capitalists, it was a humiliating moment.

Vice President Vince Sollitto, who previously handled press for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, gamely told CNET that Cuil (pronounced ‘cool’) “will only improve with time. It’s Day One. Traffic is massive. We’re new. There are bugs to fix, results to improve.”

All that is undoubtedly true, but whether millions of new users will return for a second or third time remains to be seen.

From the inception, Cuil (Gaelic for “knowledge”) was the longest of long shots given Google’s extraordinary dominance, but it attracted great interest because of the pedigree of its principals. If anyone could beat Google at its own game, the thinking went, it was Google’s own former engineers.

President Anna Patterson was an architect of Google’s large search index and led a Web page ranking team there until 2006.

CEO Tom Costello, who is married to Patterson, has developed search engines at Stanford University and IBM.

Two other former Google engineers - Russell Power and Louis Monier - are also part of the team.

Cuil boasted that its search methods drill into the actual content of a page, rather than trying to mimic Google’s method of ranking the quantity and quality of links to Web sites.

Its 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 boasts of another difference with Google. It promises not to retain information about its users’ search histories - something that has prompted much criticism of Google.

At least for now, however, the site’s search methodology does not distinguish between news, images, maps and blogs, as Google does. Many users, moreover, expressed disappointment with the results they got the first day.

For the foreseeable future, Google’s dominance looks secure. Through May, it 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.

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