Is Cuil the next Google?

Some ex-Googlers have set up a new rival to the all-conquering search engine - but how cool is Cuil?

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

New search engine Cuil (pronounced ‘cool’), which was launched in the US this weekend, claims to be an improved version of market leader Google – able to index more pages, more quickly and more cheaply. What’s more, it claims to go beyond standard technology by analysing search terms and ranking results by content, rather than by popularity – and then displaying the results in a more user-friendly way. Backed by $33m of venture capital funding, this is clearly a start-up with ambitions to beat Google at its own game…

It’s not the first time that Google has faced competition from an upstart rival – most recently Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales launched Wikia Search, which aims to take a community-based approach to page ranking. But this is the first time that its competition comes from within its own ranks: Cuil founder Anna Patterson sold her last search engine to Google four years ago, and then worked for the search giant for two years before moving on. Her husband Tom Costello, who will be CEO of Cuil, and co-founder Russell Power are also Google alumni.

Cuil’s main boast is its breadth: the site claims to have indexed over 120bn pages, which it says is three times more than its rival. Google won’t say how many pages it indexes (only that it has crawled 1trn internet pages), so we can’t know for sure - but we can’t help feeling that if its index was bigger then it would have come out and said so.

The problem for Cuil – as with all these search engines – is that Google’s dominance is just so well-established. It’s so synonymous with search now (controlling more than 60% of the market) that it’s hard to imagine people abandoning it. Particularly just for the sake of a bigger index – we don’t know about you, but we’re not going to lose too much sleep about only getting 2m rather than 6m results. And based on a very quick and unscientific experiment with the site, it doesn’t seem to deliver noticeably better or faster results (although its anti-Google black background is rather Cuil…)

But the new site does have a couple of big advantages. At a time when Google has become not only a money-making machine but also an avid collector of our personal information, Cuil has two key differentiators: it carries no advertising, and it doesn’t retain browsing histories. Quite how it plans to make any money remains to be seen, but now that Google’s squeaky-clean image is under threat, Cuill may yet turn out to be the most attractive alternative. At which point Microsoft will probably step in and spend a fortune on it...

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Is Cuil the next Google? 
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