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Cuil Techies Scramble to Recover From Too Much Love

Cuil Techies Scramble to Recover From Too Much Love

How cool is Cuil? Moderately. A spokesperson for the new search engine explains that early criticism could largely be explained by the overwhelming amount of attention the site received at launch. Now that activity has simmered down, the engine's usefulness appears to be improving. Cuil provides some unique and useful features as well as a few frustrations, writes reviewer Walaika Haskins.

By Walaika Haskins
08/01/08 9:30 AM PT

Cuil, the new search engine created by a team that included a couple of former Google execs, launched this week. However, just a few hours after it went live, it seemed as though Cuil's dive into the search engine pool was more like a belly flop, judging by a sizable number of reports and reviews.

Cuil says it's capable of providing more relevant results due to technology Visit the VMware Tech Center that examines the contents of a Web page rather than its popularity, and it boasted a page index of 120 billion.

Perhaps, then, expectations ran a little too high. Early reviews took jabs at the search engine, decrying ticks like odd query results and an apparent inability to recognize punctuation marks like periods in search terms (though that particular shortcoming appears to have been corrected).

Melting Under the Limelight

For better or for worse, the glut of publicity the search engine received Monday brought people to the site in droves, according to Vince Sollitto, vice president of communications at Cuil.

"[The coverage] generated a great amount of interest, for which we were initially grateful. But it was overwhelming," Sollitto told TechNewsWorld.

The search engine handled more than 50 million queries on Monday. That's more than Microsoft gets in a day and almost as many as Yahoo, Sollitto explained, citing Comstat statistics.

"You can imagine that those established search engines have more infrastructure than our little startup. And quite frankly we got all that traffic, and that brought machines down and redundancies were not so redundant after all," he said.

The volume of queries put a huge strain on Cuil's system, and as a result, machines started to go down.

"When a machine goes down, and that machine has the results you were looking for because of our specialized architecture, you might have gotten no results. We were completely under water," Sollitto said.

Now that it's been a few days, said Sollitto, things have cooled down, and the company is attempting to solve its remaining problems.

How Cool is Cuil?

So, how does Cuil stack up against Google? Pretty well.

The site still has its glitches. For instance, a search for "roadrunner IBM" undertaken Thursday returned no results. But when the keywords were flipped to "IBM roadrunner," the search results provided were all relevant, with IBM's site filling in the top spot.

Queries for singer Jill Scott returned 1,104,450 results on Cuil versus 3,400,000 on Google. In this instance, however, one cannot judge a search engine on the number of results alone. For instance, Google's result page returned links to sites where records and other merchandise was available for purchase.

On Cuil, however, the search produced three other tabs: "Jill Scott Lyrics," "Who is Jill Scott" and "Jill Scott Concert," in addition to the "all results" tab. Clicking on "Jill Scott Lyrics" revealed a host of sites with lyrics to Scott's songs, naturally.

Also, Cuil offers an interesting tool with its "explore by category" feature. For this search the categories included Neo-Soul Singers, African-American Singers, American Rhythm and Blues Singers, J Records Artists and African-American Singer-songwriter. Very cool, especially if you're doing research for a paper or want to explore a genre. Cuil's default setting preventing any pornographic results is also a plus for parents.

Overall, after using the site for about four hours, I found its results to be analogous with those on other search engines like Google, MSN and Yahoo. While some things on Cuil really are cool -- like the fact that the site does not retain any information on my searches -- it would be nice not to have to worry about things like word order when I'm searching.

Cuil left me wanting for specialized searches on news, books, music, video, etc. However, Sollitto said, right now the company is focused on refining its search technology to provide the best text-based results and has not discussed how to apply to things such as video.

It could be useful for deep-digging searches when one wants to see some links other than what floats to the top of other engines' results pages. But for now, Google will remain my go-to search engine of choice.


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