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Cuil Trots Out Dark Horse Search Contender

Cuil Trots Out Dark Horse Search Contender

On the surface, the new search engine Cuil appears to be the anti-Google -- it's got a black background and greets visitors with an unequivocal promise of privacy. But if Cuil expects to overtake Google, it's probably in for a tough fight. Google is about much more than search these days, and its whole system is designed to keep users inside its family of products.

By Walaika Haskins TechNewsWorld ECT News Network
07/28/08 1:31 PM PT

A startup search engine launched Monday, Cuil (pronounced "cool"), hopes to prove that its search technology is cooler than that of the reigning king of search, Google.

Cuil's creators -- former Google search architect Anna Patterson; her husband Tom Costello, a former researcher and developer at Stanford University and IBM; and Russell Power, another former Google executive -- claim they have pioneered a new take on the search game, combining the largest index of Web pages -- 120 billion -- with a content-based relevance methodology.

Search results, organized by ideas, are consequently more meaningful, the company said.

Taking on Google, however, requires more than just a nifty new search engine, said Gene Alvarez, a research vice president at Gartner. Since its launch, Google has expanded its brand to encompass a variety of Web services. Consumers turn to Google for much more than its search engine.

So, while something like Cuil may whittle away at their search market, displacing Google will be an uphill battle.

Cuil Enough?

With a home page sporting a black background and a guarantee of complete user privacy, Cuil appears to be styling itself as the anti-Google. Unlike Google, which keeps an anonymous record of each search conducted by its users, Cuil's technology relies on a different search methodology, according to its creators.

Rather than returning results ranked by the number of inbound and outbound links of Web pages, as Google does, Cuil's technology mines data for content-based searches. Results therefore are based on the content of each page, not the popularity of a particular site. It makes Cuil's search method more efficient and allows the company to not need to collect personal data on searches, it said.

In another contrast, instead of a list of links with brief descriptions, Cuil's results are laid out in columns, much like a magazine, and separated by subject, which also allows for additional searches by concept or category.

The company has not disclosed its business model, and Cuil representatives did not respond to TechNewsWorld's request for comment.

Searching for More

Any company seeking to knock Google from its perch atop the search engine world will have to fight long and hard to make it happen. Challengers must answer to Google's many ancillary Web services as well as its spider web-like ecosystem of business partners.

"Google at this point has not only captured the consumer with its search engine, but its other applications have helped make people comfortable with Google. Whether it's the add-ons to the browser or using Gmail or Google Apps or the social software, Google's expanded footprint helps Google fight off these types of attempts," Alvarez told TechNewsWorld.

For Cuil to be successful, it needs to be able to draw to its site consumers who in the course of an average day have multiple touches with any given Google product. Google's installed search toolbars, Gmail, Google Docs and other applications all keep users coming back to Google.

"All of that is stuff Cuil is going up against. They have to do one of two [things]: Exceed the quadruple threat, which is quite a challenge in itself, or be able to provide a clearly differentiated search experience from Google," explained Tom Austin, a Gartner fellow and chief of research in software.

"From a quick look at the site, I didn't see anything that jumped out at me other than that they changed the white background to black to show it as an opposite to Google. I saw some functionality that looks similar to Ask.com's attempt to bring in a Web 2.0 rich Internet experience," he said.

Ask.com's revamped search efforts -- with peeks at Web pages and other added features -- were not enough to draw a significant portion of Google's installed base.

Challenges Ahead

The challenge Cuil faces is much greater than developing a better search engine, Austin said.

"Once upon a time, Google was about search. Today, Google is this extremely large business model that is search-based but is ad revenue-driven and includes hundreds of thousands of other companies in its ecosystem. Anybody who wants to beat Google in search has got to displace the entire business model and business ecosystem Google has built," he told TechNewsWorld.

"The chance of that happening in the next five years is diminishingly small," he added.

"If you're a startup, you're not competing with Google. You're competing with all the SEO firms, all the hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs who are buying Google Adwords and Google's ability to sell this vast network of available pages on which to advertise," he explained.

Cuil has to be ready to wage a long and hard battle, much the way Toyota has over the past 50 years with General Motors, Austin noted.

"How many people took on General Motors and won? It's taken Toyota 50 years, and they are still not No. 1. Anyone taking on Google or Microsoft or any market leader must be prepared for a long fight. And it's not going to be by directly attacking the strength of the machine, either," he said.


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