Monday, July 28, 2008

Cuil Search

Beginning from the last night, Cuil (pronounced "cool") starts to hit the headline of many technological blogs.

New Design of Interface

Cuil is experiencing a new design of magazine-style search-result display interface other than the "standard" list-style display of Web search results. The following is a screen shot by typing my name into the Cuil search. This change of design potentially may mean much more than attracting eyeballs.

In an earlier post at Alt Search Engines, I shared that a critical but often overlooked issue in the current Web search is the production of link resources, i.e., how to better formulate the generated links according to the user search requests. To clarify the issue, let me explain it using a metaphor. If one has a brilliant pearl but present it inside a crude lunchbox, how good it might be known? A brilliant pearl needs to have a well-designed box (such as the right one) that matches its superior quality. It is exciting to watch a breakthrough on this issue by Cuil.

This new design provides Cuil lots of potential. For example, each of the short related story shown at the first page of result could be more than just Web links. By contrast, it may be an entry point to a related Web thread and each story is describing the theme of the thread. A combination of Web search and Techmeme-style stories may bring Cuil users very different experiences from using, such as, Google for search.

New ranking and privacy

Another exciting thing to watch is that apparently Cuil has performed a different algorithm on ranking its search results. After Google's success, ranking based on objective link popularity is generally accepted as the foundation of page rank on the Web. Cuil, however, seems trying to apply a new standard of ranking over its stored over 120 billion (as it claimed) Web pages. As the result, from the previous figure we can see that the rank of my related links is very different from the rank of links returned by Google. Discarding the performance until now (anyway, Cuil is launched barely for one day but Google has optimized its results for more than a decade), I strongly support Cuil's attempt. We want to have an alternative solution which does provide us DIFFERENCE. On the other hand, if a new search engine ranks the Web the same way as Google, how could we be convinced that it might do better than Google? Therefore, no matter whatever Cuil has chosen a correct path to walk and we wish it the best luck in the future.

Cuil also claimed some exciting news about its advanced privacy protection technology. Danny Sullivan on Search Engine Land uncovered that Cuil search engine would not log IP information. Be note that Google, Yahoo and all perform this IP log in their search engines. Cuil's claim helps protect users' privacy on both of the publishing and surfing on the Web. I recommend this improvement especially to the places where information censorship is rigorous.

Still long way to go

Despite of all the improvements, Cuil still have a long way to go before it may indeed threaten Google. For example, it seems that search engine repeatedly looks for the same links and there must be some severe bugs about how to break a circles in graphs in its algorithm.

The following is the second page of the Cuil search results by input my name. Comparing to the first page in the former figure, we can see that the second page repeats quite a few links that have already shown in the first page. I have tested Cuil by the other queries and it seems that this is a bug generally occurred.

Certainly Cuil has more than this problem. But I am still looking forward to its future. Although Sullivan only showed "cautiously optimistic" to the future of Cuil, I think the value of Cuil would not be the precision of its search results. I agree to Sullivan that it is hard to believe that Cuil can do significantly better on bringing back more accurate results than Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft by employing the similar infrastructure of Web search. On the other hand, however, Cuil does show us that it may help build final link resources in better quality. Only if Cuil can continuously convince people that it can bring people alternatives (even though no better results) that they can hardly get from Google, Cuil would be a success at the end because we want to hear different voices.

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