Home > life > A Few Thoughts on Cuil: The Least Disappointing Search Launch in a While

A Few Thoughts on Cuil: The Least Disappointing Search Launch in a While

After not much fanfare but plenty of anticipation, Cuil has launched.

As expected, the general blogosphere coverage of Cuil has been sub par (except for Danny Sullivan’s EXCELLENT review; in depth and trenchant as usual), mostly because the service simply wasn’t available until 9pm. Also, most mainstream blogs that test search products miss the obvious things to check for (spam, porn, relevance, link analysis, etc.). Today, the stories to be found on TechMeme are either focused on index size (mine is bigger) or on the backgrounds of the founders (who gives a rat’s ass?).

I decided to kick the tires on Cuil and the short review is: the least disappointing search engine launch in quite a while.

Quintura? Not so much. Hakia? Mmm, no. Ask? Yeah, nice UI but didn’t have the stomach to push it. Mahalo? Nice, but don’t even get me started, I should be ashamed of myself for putting it on the list. PowerSet? Interesting, but they have a LONG LONG way to go, hopefully the road is easier with M$ dollars.

Here are a few things at Cuil which are very nice:

  • It works reasonably for tail terms. I tried “12 year old with diabetes”, “who built the eiffel tower”, “swimmer’s itch” and a host of others. Sometimes the results are less than stellar but there were very few chokeathons. Try any of the search players above on a really obscure term and you’ll define the word chokeathon for yourself.
  • The magazine layout (or the grid layout, to be more precise) makes scanning easy. I like the presence of anchor images everywhere even though the images themselves are sometimes BS.
  • The refinements and exploration jump off points offered are usually very nice. If I do say so myself, Kosmix does better on the “Related in the Kosmos” block, definitely so in Health.
  • Love the autocomplete’s execution on the search box. Ask has already offered this so it ain’t a first, but its very well done and quite accurate for my tests.
  • It supports site: which a lot of new search engines don’t support. Good on you, Cuil.

Now, here are all the things that are currently blowing chunks:

  • Its not fully stable. I saw an empty page for “Barack Obama” as well as for “salmonella”. A refresh fixed it each time.
  • Spam is an unsolved problem: http://www.cuil.com/search?q=viagra&sl=long. You cant claim to be good until you remove the domain parker in result #4 for Viagra, which is a VERY popular search.
  • A colleague (who shall remain unnamed) sent me a query called “getting rid of bats”, which produces a virus on the first result. That is just NOT COOL (pun intended).
  • Sometimes, the images are bullshit.
  • Google Universal Search RULES for things that are newsworthy or imageworthy. Try “salmonella” on Google and find news results because of the latest food scare. None to be found on Cuil. Presumably, “universal” search is something they could work on because this is necessary but not sufficient for success. Similarly, their local offering is bound to blow.

All in all, a big congratulations to Cuil for pulling over what many others have failed spectularly to do. Now, please get back to work and roll me a better offering.

As for those of you that think Kosmix is still working on what is generally known as search, check out this post: http://anand.typepad.com/datawocky/2008/06/searching-for-a-needle-or-exploring-the-haystack.html

Categories: life
  1. Max G Faraday
    July 28, 2008 at 10:46 am

    The Cuil folks absolutely have something. They have smart folks and a good offering. They are but a day old (not even)… Give them some time to tighten the bolts and they can truly be a contender in the search game. The UI is innovative and refreshing and you can clearly see that what they are bringing to the table is significant. They are probably reading all this feedback and are getting things ship shape accordingly. At least I hope so. I am waiting to see where things are in a few months. In the mean time, I’ll use them… why not.

  2. July 28, 2008 at 12:31 pm

    I’ve checked for our most sought after search term, and we’re there on page one straight away, which is nice. However, the logo they’ve put alongside our listing is not our logo; it’s not even a logo that appears on our site at all.

    And if you search for the company by name, the “screenshot” that goes with the first (or at least, top left) listing is YEARS old.

    The images thing will bug a lot of people, I reckon, but we’ll see how it evens out over time.

  3. Jenny J
    July 28, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Cuil is by far the LEAST efficient search engine that I’ve used in a long time. Searching “happiness”, I found the first page to load relatively quickly, but once I tried to turn to the second page…:

    We didn’t find any results for “happiness”
    Some reasons might be…
    a typo. Please check your spelling.
    your search includes a term that is very rare. Try to find a more common substitute.
    too many search terms. Please try fewer terms.
    Finally, try to think of different words to describe your search.

    No second page? That about sums up my “happiness” with Cuil. 😛

  4. July 28, 2008 at 3:37 pm


    I am able to load the second page just fine: http://www.cuil.com/search?q=happiness&pi=11&sl=long.

    They are having hiccups though, I wrote about that in the post. They showed me an empty page for Barack Obama :).

  5. July 28, 2008 at 3:39 pm


    Agreed! The whole images feature simply serves to anchor the page but doesn’t do much else. What value is being added to a user by having a stupid logo that has been distorted to fit into their height/width constraints??

  6. July 29, 2008 at 1:28 am

    At first, I was very impressed with Cuil. Then I decided to search for stuff I knew about: me. I looked up my name, which is not a common name in the least. Google returns lots of relevant results, with my own website listed first, including a Wired letter to the editor from some years ago.

    Cuil? Meh. My website was listed second, and on the very first page there were 4 results that had no mention of my name, or anything similar to it! Also, the image in my website’s listing was completely unrelated to me or my website – I have no clue where they got it from! Very bizarre.

    While I really did dig the layout, they have a long way to go before it will actually work as a proper search engine.

  7. July 29, 2008 at 2:02 am


    Yeah, fair enough. A few “categories” of search seem to be currently busted. Travel search is one. Searches with local overtones is another. Try “pizza” or “plumber” and the delta between Cuil and the majors is night and day.

    From you and others, I’m also hearing that people search is b0rked.

  8. July 31, 2008 at 2:43 am

    Nice, in-depth review… But IMHO, Cuil was a big letdown. They billed themselves as being created by the designers of Google, a true Google competitor… With that type of hype, we really should have gotten more.

    The image linking is completely awful. In fact, with some of the photos that get linked to unrelated stories, it could end up being a legal liability. I hope Cuil can clear this up quickly.

    I do agree, the interface is beautiful.

  9. August 1, 2008 at 5:17 am


    Good thoughts. The messaging was RETARDED. You do not try to position yourself as David over Goliath and fall over like a bowling pin. And yeah, 50 million queries on the first day or not, I don’t care.

    Regardless, I’m excited about the fact that they have found a more efficient way to crawl and index. Good for them!

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