Cool Discussion of Cuil

July 28, 2008

Xooglers Anna Patterson and Louth man Tom Costello (husband and wife brains behind Xift which sold to and Recall), Louis Monier ( top wizard), and Russell Power (worked on TeraGoogle) teamed up to create a next-generation Google. Michael Liedtke’s New Search Engine Claims Three Times the Grunt of Google is worth reading. You can find one instance of the write up here.

TechCrunch wrote about Cuil in 2007. You can read that essay here. The key points in the TechCrunch write up were that Cuil can index Web content faster and more economically than Google. Venture funding was $33 million, which is a healthy chunk for search technology.

Mr. Liedtke pulls together some useful information. For me, the most interesting points in the write up were:

  • The Cuil index contains 120 billion Web pages.
  • Cuil is derived from an Irish name.
  • The search results will appear in a “magazine like format”, not a laundry list of results.
  • Google has looked the same for the last 10 years and will look the same in the next 10 years.

Although Dr. Patterson left Google in 2006, she authored several patent documents related to search. I profiled these documents in Google Version 2.0, and these provide some insight into how Dr. Patterson thinks about extracting meaning from content. The patent documents are available from the USPTO, and she is listed as the sole inventor on the patent applications.


If Cuil’s index contains 120 billion Web pages, it would be three times larger than Google’s Web page index of 40 billion Web pages and six times larger than 20 billion page index. Google has indexed structured data which makes the index far larger, but Google does not reveal the total number of items in its index. The “my fish was this big” approach to search is essentially meaningless without context.

The connection via Louis Monier is important. A number of engineers have not joined Google. One company–Exalead–has plumbing that meets or exceeds Google’s infrastructure. My thought is that Cuil will include innovations that Google cannot easily retrofit. Therefore, if Exalead has a killer infrastructure, it is likely that Cuil will have one too. As Mr. Liedtke’s article points out, Google has not changed search in a decade. This observation comes from Dr. Patterson and may have some truth in it. But as Google grows larger, radical change becomes more difficult no matter how many lava lamps there are in the Mountain View office.

The experience Dr. Costello gained in the Web Fountain work for IBM suggests that text analytics will get more than casual treatment. Analytics may play a far larger role in Cuil than it did in either Recall, Xift, or Google for that matter.

The knowledge DNA of the Cuil founders is important. There’s Stanford University, the University of Washington, and I make quick judgments about new search technology by looking for this type of knowledge fingerprint.

Other links you may find useful:

  • Cuil bios are here.
  • Independent Ireland write up about the company is here.
  • A run down of Xooglers who jumped ship is here and here.
  • A brief description of Xift is here.
  • Recall info is here. Scroll down to this headline “Recall Search through Past”
  • WebFountain architecture info is here. You have to download the section in which you have interest.

With $33 million in venture funding, it’s tough to determine if Cuil will compete with Google or sell out. This company is on my watch list. If you have information to share about Cuil, please, post it in the comments section.

Stephen Arnold, July 28, 2008


10 Responses to “Cool Discussion of Cuil”

  1. Vince on July 28th, 2008 7:53 am

    Actually the black front page may do well for them if they take off. Good contrast to the whiteness of Google.

    Cuil is ok. Not as amazing as hyped up. I did a bit more research and wrote about it today on the blog, shortly after discovering it. They seem to over index and under deliver. I’m sure it’ll improve in time. $33 million in funding, with ex Google employees and a great concept.

    But will it kill Google? lol… i v much doubt it!!

    Vince (Hong Kong Wong)

    BTW I also just wrote further thoughts on Cuil and some facts about the company here on my blog if interested:

  2. Jeff on July 28th, 2008 10:22 am

    I took a quick peek at Cuil and was not overly impressed.

    Some of it may have to do with simply being used to Google. While Googles layout is uninteresting it is functional. Cuil’s results layout I find harder to navigate as simply.

    Additionally Cuil does not hand you news results as part of your search as Google does. I find this feature of Google of great use as often I am looking for a media report on a subject and not the webpage of the subject itself.

    Finally, Cuils’ results seem off a bit. I Googled a website I am involved with and while Cuil returned links it did not return the basic homepage link at all on the first page (returned articles more deeply embedded in the site). I used the name of the website as the search so this was odd. Additionally, I searchedon the term “cuil” on Cuil’s site and it returned nothing about them at all opting to show me links to Ireland and windmills and restaurants.

    I really, really like that Cuil will not track users searches as Google does. Just on principle I very much dislike Google for doing this but so far I am not seeing Cuil as a Google killer.

    Here’s hoping though that Google finally gets some decent competition!

  3. Jeff on July 28th, 2008 1:49 pm

    Just to add…tried doing a search (several times) 30 seconds ago on Cuil and this is the response I got (that is something Google never does and does not engender faith in Cuil):

    “We’ll be back soon…

    Due to overwhelming interest, our Cuil servers are running a bit hot right now. The search engine is momentarily unavailable as we add more capacity.

    Thanks for your patience.”

  4. Stephen E. Arnold on July 28th, 2008 2:44 pm

    Vince, Jeff,

    Thank you for posting. Cuil is new and promising. Competition is good for everyone. Anna and her team (excluding her kids and dogs who will watch) will get the system up and running soon.

    Stephen Arnold, July 28, 2008

  5. Igor on July 29th, 2008 1:14 am

    From a cursory review, Cuil seems to work pretty well – better than MSN search, at least, but for me, not as well as in some respects.

    The headlines saying how Cuil had “former top Google engineers” caught my eye, but I worked there for several years starting before 2000, and never heard any of their names before now, so that seems a bit of a stretch.

    Good luck to them though.

  6. Stephen E. Arnold on July 29th, 2008 7:45 am

    Igor, thanks for taking the time to post. Anna Patterson was a Googler, but Google doesn’t make much of an effort to shine the spotlight on people. Dr. Patterson is the author of a series of patent documents related to indexing systems and methods. As part of the research team, she’s not running around conferences or enjoying the noon hour entertainment with other Googlers and their guests. She’s and her colleagues are the real deal.

    Stephen Arnold, July 29, 2008

  7. Outsider on July 29th, 2008 11:44 am

    Well like many i went to look at the new search tool.. I wasn’t impressed at all. I did comparative searches on random subjects with cuil and google and the results with google were closer to what i was really expecting to find. The one nice thing about it though is it not logging search info on users.

    Also Looking up the domain name information it seems they have there home info on in it ( tom ) is the person who owns this domain. Google maps even has a street level view of there house lol. Anyway if you have complaints just look up the domain info and tell tom yourself as his home number is now public info.

  8. Pat on July 29th, 2008 10:36 pm

    I like the ‘magazine’ look of the web-site search results. I’d perfer a little more white – perhaps as a border – since a full-sized window of black didn’t impress. It looks as though it could be (or would better be) used as the search widget for a portal.

    My first search worked well – I searched ‘porch leak’ and got a good question-answer piece. When I cuiled ‘porch leak french drain’ I got no results. Yet ‘french drain’ appeared in the search result text. While Google often gives too many answers, I’m was not happy with none.

    I also cuiled ‘cuil npr’. Some foreign sites were returned with no connection to my search. Google directed me (first item) to the npr site to get the 57 second soundtrack from the npr broadcast. I’m guessing these oversights will be remedied, but they left me a little disappointed.

  9. Cruel to Cuil : Beyond Search on December 30th, 2008 12:04 am

    […] down on Cuil. I wrote about this service when it first rolled out. You can read that article here. You can find CNet’s take on the failure of Cuil here. Matt Asay’s “Breaking the […]

  10. Gets Better : Beyond Search on March 30th, 2009 12:02 am

    […] I did a fly over of the Web site. What triggered an overflight was a Google patent; specifically, US20090070312, “Integrating External Related Phrase Information into a Phrase-Based Indexing Information Retrieval System”. Filed in September 2007, the USPTO spit it out on March 12, 2009. I discussed a chain of Dr. Patterson’s inventions in my 2007 study Google Version 2.0 here. Dr. Patterson is no longer a full-time Googler, the tendrils of her research from Xift to Cuil pass through the GOOG. When I looked at today (March 29, 2007), I ran my suite of test queries. Most of them returned more useful and accurate results than my first look at the system in July 2008 here. […]

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