Someone had forwarded me a link today to a new search engine called cuil.com. This new search engine was developed by three ex-Google senior engineers and claims to offer a new more updated approach for scouring the web. Apart from my initial frustration with the name which I struggled to pronounce phonetically—quill? queal? swill?—I was even more loath and blushed to discover that the correct pronunciation is in fact “cool”: as in, “cool.”com. This really bothered me. What people are not getting nowadays is that originality runs out after the first implementation. The whole spell-something-wrong-but-pronounce-it-different thing is completely old hat (much like that phrase). When “flickr” came out with their domain name back in 2004, it was interesting and different. The same goes for, “del.icio.us,” even “scribd.” So initially, Cuil.com already started at “1.0″ for me before I even went to the site. And no offense to engineers (since I am one myself) but I have this feeling (call it a hunch) that it was most certainly one of the engineers who came up with that last season name; either that, or it was this guy.
But, taking aside the crappy name, I talked myself into a calm of openmindedness (which was tough) and attempted to honestly appraise this new search engine on its own functional merits. When I first went to the site, it was exactly as I would of expected it. One simple textbox and an Ajax-powered search “suggest,” that as you start typing will predict what you are going to say by querying other popular results. The suggest engine certainly needs some work, though, this is again not exactly a novel idea: this was something that Google had first developed—to better effect—and that you could use if you so elect. I don’t know about you, but I love Google’s “I’m feeling Lucky” button and use it as often as I remember it’s there. It’s a great way to save a click during quick web searches and more often than not will land you in the place you had hoped to be. Cuil, to my dismay, did not have one. In addition, I use Google all the time to convert things for me. You know, pounds to feet, inches to currency, George Bushisms to English, and Cuil can not currently do this (seemingly easy thing). It can perform basic math, but anything beyond that, it assumes you were looking for a website: I typed in “31 inches in feet” in both Google and Cuil, and only Google gave me what I expected.
When you finally do click the blue search button to perform your query, unlike most search engines that display your result in an easy-to-read horizontal manner that is sorted according to rank, Cuil will instead take the liberty of showing you all your results in a nice confusing all-in-your-face manner, along with some pictures that don’t always align with the results. Call me old fashioned, but there was something off-putting about the results I got back. I don’t like too many things on a screen, and I like to read like I’m reading a book, straight down. And when I’m comfortable with the process, and feel like I’ve mastered it to my own satisfaction, I don’t want to have to readjust to a new format. This is perhaps why Google has kept up its classic look. It might also be the reason that electronic books like Kindle don’t fly off a shelf, or why we don’t use metal sporks at dinner table.
On a positive note, I will admit that the color scheme and overall interface looked rather clean and pretty. But, I’m not sure I want “pretty” in a search engine. I want fast results. I want utility. It should be like a Jeep, not a Mini Cooper. I was a bit hurt that my own website wasn’t indexed on cuil, despite their claim on the about page that states “Cuil searches more pages on the Web than anyone else.” All I could helping saying in my head was, “Really, is that so?”
Overall, when you consider everything else that Google has to offer, it is clear that to compete against such a behemoth would require you to compete on many other fronts aside from the search engine: I’m thinking, Gmail, Reader, blogspot, Maps, Documents, YouTube, et al. But since all these things which are already top-quality products are tightly woven into there flagship product, the Search Engine, it would certainly require more than just pretty colors and a different presentation to outdo them, or even to get enough people to switch over. No, it would require something a lot cuiler.
(see also: A counter-argument by friend and roommate Andrew.)