29 Jul 2008

Cuil, the latest pretender to the Google throne, launched yesterday boasting over 120 billion indexed webpages, which it claims is more than the number indexed by Google. puts this to the test to find out if bigger really is better.

First off, the lenses of objectivity really and truly do not exist when it comes to reviewing any new search engine because, like most other internet users, the Google homepage is an intrinsic part of my web experience – I don’t merely look for things, I ‘google’ them.

So, Cuil has a lot to live up to and it knows this. Google is one of the most recognised brands on the planet – and the most powerful brand globally with a brand value of US$66.5m, according to US research and consulting firm Millward Brown.

Aside from this, it is the search engine of choice for most. In the UK, takes 72.97pc of the search engine market with taking 14.37pc, leaving roughly 3pc each for Yahoo! and

If you are going to take this giant on, you need to kick some serious ass.

In order to see how Cuil holds up against Google and Yahoo!, I’ve searched for a few common words or phrases to see which held the most relevancy for me starting with ‘cheap flights’ – everybody likes those!

First off, I used both and but does not exist so I hoped that it would return Eire-centric results for me. Fail.

While both Google and Yahoo! returned Aer Lingus, Ryanair and other related sites for finding cheap flights for Irish travellers, Cuil gave me a load of UK and US sites. Of course the UK ones were somewhat relevant but why not list the Irish ones first?

The drop down menu to the right of the search results, ‘Explore by Category’, is obviously meant to suggest relevant links but I got options including ‘Airlines established in 1991’ and ‘Greek regional capitals’. How on earth is this of any use to the average surfer?

Next up I decided to do an ego search because let’s face it we’ve all done it, nothing to be ashamed of. Yahoo! rather insensitively suggested that perhaps I meant Marie ‘born’ and went on to list results I thought were a bit out of date, while Google was bang on, listing my personal blog, social networking profiles and recently written stories.

Cuil baffled me frankly. While my Twitter account was listed, it listed someone else’s Facebook account and nothing else apart from news stories. But the thing that bugs me the most is the layout.

This could be a personal preference but when I’m searching through links and information I prefer a list view because it suggests brevity and order. This new-fangled layout where everything is done in a magazine style is distracting and I cannot seem to digest the results properly.

Furthermore, it is not more aesthetically pleasing than the Google, Yahoo! or Ask layout and the accompanying pictures are problematic.

Cuil says pictures displayed alongside the search results are sourced by contextually analysing both the keywords and overall text for meaning but anecdotal evidence suggests this is not working and looks like the picture comes from different sources other than the page itself.

On the plus side, when I did a search for the great Stephen Fry I was happy enough with the links returned, but I am by no means about to abandon Google for Cuil.

I do think that I am too used to Google’s integrated offering to really ‘get’ Cuil anyway. I like the handiness of flicking between tabs on Google’s search engine, my Gmail, Google News, Reader, Analytics, image search, Docs, Calendar ad nauseam to appreciate a tool that does just one thing.

But if Cuil did one thing and did it well … that’s another story.

By Marie Boran

Pictured: results returned for search for ‘Stephen Fry’ on Cuil