Rory Cellan-Jones

How cool is Cuil?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 28 Jul 08, 16:55 GMT

Does the world need another search engine? The people behind Cuil (pronounced cool) obviously think so. They claim that their brand new search searches three times as many pages as Google and they tell us that "rather than rely on superficial popularity metrics, Cuil searches for and ranks pages based on their content and relevance."

Cuil websiteThe founders of Cuil are former Google engineers and they obviously have a fiercely competitive attitude to their former mother-ship - this line in their FAQ seems aimed at another search engine:

"What information do you keep about me?"
"None. We analyze the web, not our users. Read our Privacy Policy for details. It's short."

But getting a world which now uses "google" as a verb to change its search habits is a massive challenge. So is Cuil worth a try? I tried it, and was not immediately impressed. It looks better than Google, with images integrated into search results, and I like the option to explore by categories which you are offered with your results. But in a number of cases it offered me, well, nothing.

One was a complex inquiry relating to how you find your data usage on a mobile broadband product - Google directed me to a useful forum, Cuil said "no results".

Then I put in the surname of a senior Microsoft executive and got this :"We didn't find any results for "Courtois Microsoft". Only when I put in his full name did I receive some decent links.

Perhaps it was just me. I decided to widen my research by asking colleagues across our newsroom - all of whom are rabid searchers after truth - to try a Cuil search alongside every Google inquiry. Within minutes of sending out an e-mail, I was getting plenty of responses - most telling me that they had received this message after trying a search:

"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."

Oh dear - if you can't hook impatient people on the day you launch, they may not return. I decided to give it one last chance and put Cuil's fate in the hands of a real expert. Murray Dick is a BBC researcher who has spent a lot of time working out how journalists can use search more effectively - he runs an excellent seminar on webtools for journalists, which he's published on his personal blog.

His conclusions were kinder than mine, but not much:

  • Search term: "The speed of sound" "This particular search highlights one of Google's many tricks - giving a calculation and conversion details of the speed of sound at the top - a serious benefit over the Cuil results."
  • Search term: "Nikon d50 reviews problems". Plenty of articles on the D70 camera, but none on the D50 (which might suggest it isn't doing its job in terms of prioritising meta tags and headlines above freetext). Google however got a good review from a reputable independent source as first link.
  • Search term:"Fernando Pessoa" From the point of view of someone interested in literature, Cuil returned a wiki result, and a number of literary review-type pages, both professional and amateur. However Google (assuming the consumerist angle) brought back Amazon results as a priority (with pic), then Wiki, then various others - Google is geared more towards selling than reference research.

  • Search term: "What age is Gordon Strachan?"
    Cuil returns nothing - it doesn't seem to be able to cope with question-based queries - compared to Ask (with same query), which finds Strachan's Wiki page, and gives the results exactly (Ask being a natural language search engine, beats others at this type of query - semantic search engines aside).

So Cuil only came out on top in one out of Murray's four searches. In summary, neither Murray nor anyone else I asked to try out Cuil saw a compelling reason to switch search engines, which is a pity, because it is getting more difficult to extract useful results from Google.

Cuil has raised impressive amounts of investor cash for a start-up taking on the biggest kid on the internet block. But seeing as I had to search Google to find out about the $25 million round of investment in April - a search on Cuil for "cuill backers" returned no results - I fear those investors may not see their money back.

Well I don't look so cool now, do I? I've spent an entire blog post writing "Cuil" as "Cuill"(now corrected). Why? Because that is how I first typed it into my browser and that took me to the site. Mind you, I've done that search for "cuil backers" again and it still returns nothing useful.


  • Comment number 1.

    Surely a better title for this story should be "Cuil - or is that Cuill?" - surely you could have used it to find out how to spell the search engine's name........

  • Comment number 2.

    Rory (and for that matter jazz_mavericks too), the search engine had been called "Cuill" but it changed to "Cuil". It only has one 'L' now.

    It does not change the result for "Cuil backers" though.

  • Comment number 3.

    Well the first search I tried was "BBC" which gave me the BBC as expected and it was a nice suprise to see seperate tabs in results for BBC Radio, BBC sport etc.

    Now the bad point:

    The second search was "soccernet" and the result was "no pages found". Soccernet coincidentely is most viewed football related site in the world.

    A lot of work needs to be done.

  • Comment number 4.

    Not only are the search results of Cuil off target in many cases but the images associated with them are completely incorrect, adding images of the wrong person for a search term and website.

  • Comment number 5.

    Unlike which takes you to the White House (2nd result on the leff column), won't show you to the elysee palace. Cuil takes you to a BBC page, instead.

  • Comment number 6.

    Angela Merkel has no tabs. And her 4th result (second result on the right column when you choose the 2-column option) is a strange Wikipedia address, using mistaken characters, wich takes you to an error message.

  • Comment number 7.

    Sorry, my previous comment was for angela+merkel, the results for Angela+Merkel with capital letters being different.

    By the way, gives no results.

    I am no luckier with

  • Comment number 8.

    It's slow and returns completely unrelated search results quite often.

    Will not be returning to the site.

  • Comment number 9.

    I'm a medical student and found this engine to be EXCELLENT for scientific inquiries. Others deliver Wikipedia, then innundate you with products and poor results. Cuil was fantastic at returning research papers, studies, thesis, you name it.

    For general searches, it was overall weaker than the competition. I however, will continue to use this any time I need esoteric information.

  • Comment number 10.

    I searched for "Beauty Salons In Loughborough"
    The results were so irrelevant, I won't be going back

    Google has nothing to worry about here

  • Comment number 11.

    I am not too impressed. I searched, it showed no results. I did it again after a few hours, a number of results show up but the first link itself takes me to a bogus website. Compare that to google.

  • Comment number 12.

    it'll probably get better as it grows, but will anyone bother? probably not.

    like that one that jimmy wotshisname from wikipedia tried to launch. what was it called again? can't remember...

    there you are... stuck in my ways!

  • Comment number 13.

    This is interesting, i think i will use this search engine a little, i'll give it a chance. It will take time to improve, just like google took 10years to get as good as it is now.

    I think the biggest problem with trying to over come google (similarly to the way it is to get past MS) is that we don't use google just to search the web any more. Google has become an intricate part of many peoples' lives.

    Just look at all the services it offers: gmail (or is that googlemail), google docs, googlemaps, google calculator, calandar, photos, videos, and the list just grows and grows. Google has become imensely useful as you can do so much. Its going to be incredibly difficult for someone to replace that.

    And these arent services that werent offered before, they've replaced the likes of hotmail, multi-map, etc. They created good software that is all centralised so i don't need to go to 20 different websites, its all in one place.

    Its just a shame that no-one will be able to compete.

  • Comment number 14.

    One problem is that cuil takes copyrighted images from sites and uses them to give it it's magazine look. The images from my site are now being used to illustrate entries for other sites with no acknowledgement whatsover. In several cases the resultant juxataposition is deceptive.

    This is a blatant disregard for copyright laws and outside of the fair use that a search engine could claim when showing images or snapshots taken from a site alongside that sites entries. They are quite proud of this and refer to it in their FAQ.

    Luckily for me, the copyright section on my site has a license for such unauthorized use listing an agreement for such 'pilfering'. I have just invoiced them £4000 for this months license fees.

  • Comment number 15.

    The search results are full of spam - a baseline search I use is 'Chilgrove West Sussex' as few of the websites in the village actually have the word chilgrove in the title. Also there has been a turnover on the local pub and industries such that one can see how old/irrelevant the data presented is.

    The best results are from the Open Directory Project, followed by MSN, Yahoo and AOL, then Google. Cuil includes a lot of sites of the generic 'product in village' or arbitary collection of links.

  • Comment number 16.

    Creating another search engine to compete with Google is a big ask. The only difference these Cuil guys have is that they can name drop Google in their CVs and online 'about us' pages. That does lend some credibility.

    In terms of Cuil performance i have to agree with other posters. It is pants. I searched for my company name and it didnt appear - just my competition!

    The search engine game is a difficult one and clearly Google is the winner. These Cuil guys have got investor cash to create something a little bit different, that is useful to a small niche ie. like the guy above searching for esoteric keywords, and then they will sell it to Google. Job done.

  • Comment number 17.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 18.

    I tried my own real name, a simple, and yet litmus test for me. It returned nothing. I was disappointed.

    However I think we need strong competition for Google. I have been a big fan of Google and Google search screen is my home page and yet I firmly believe everyone, including Google, needs serious competition if they are to be kept honest. "Monopolistic" power corrupts and corrupts fast.

    Good luck to Cuil, they will need it.

  • Comment number 19.

    When I first read about this new search, I was intrigued by the claims from Cuil.

    My first search was for "compare with google" - which returned zero results from the newcomer, but several other search engines returned millions of pages.

    My seconds search was a lot more general - the word "the". Cuil only returned 250 results. The other search engines returned billions.

    My colleagues and I have been testing it further, and are surprised at the images that are displayed against some of the results - especially for sites that we have published. One particular result displayed an image that we know was nowhere to be found on the site in question (never mind the specific page).

  • Comment number 20.

    I'm very willing to use anything but Google. I'll even use a scraper.
    That Google will keep my info and do god knows what with it is odious.

  • Comment number 21.

    Q: How cool is cuil?

    A: Not cool at all. Using the engine to look [personal] blog brought up a bunch of results which were merely links to the blog. And there seems to be a limit on how many terms can be used to search.

  • Comment number 22.

    I'm impressed...Fernando Pessoa is one of my favourite poets. Perhaps a line from one of his poems is relevant as to why Google will keep its hold of the search market..."I never kept sheep, but it is as if I watched over them."

    The internet is dominated by sheep, and they are very difficult beasts to change the mind of.

    As to those who wont use Google because of their data tracking...there is at least 1 Firefox add-on that will anonymize your searches and remove click tracking.

  • Comment number 23.

    I find it amazing that most people seem conent to simply "compare" Cuil with Google, and then offer their elaborate insights as to why and how google is better. Rather than assigning a presumptive judgement let us remember that maturity does not occur instantaneously. Cuil is new, and as such deserves our support for at least attempting to offer a 'better' service to the world. One does not take on a giant without proper preparation, and this usually takes some time.

  • Comment number 24.

    I agree with GroovySvengali: for academic searches Cuil beats Google and Ask hands down. So far, it has also done better than a major US online library. Perhaps it will settle down in time and deal with more ordinary requests just as effectively.

  • Comment number 25.

    I searched for the website I run and was initially pleased to find that it ranked 1st in Cuil's search results - even though it seemed like an eternity to actually find anything.

    Then I noticed that the image was from a rival site, and that a copyrighted image from MY site was being used further down the page on a totally unrelated result.

    Widening my search to more general fields I've found Cuil to be slow, unpredictable and inaccurate.

    A new venture like this has got a very narrow window of opportunity to make its mark before the publicity dies down. It cannot afford "teething troubles" like this.

    Sadly it seems that rather than a threat to Google, Cuil is destined to become little more than a footnote in the internet's history; visited by a hardcore of users but ignored by the majority for whom Google or Yahoo are perfectly adequate.

    I certainly won't be using it after today.

  • Comment number 26.

    Based on a few test queries, I have found Cuil rather good for science and hard-information searches... more pertinent top hits than Google and with a very attractive and easy-to-read layout. That said, most searches are more of the latest-gadget/dimmest-celebrity kind (for which it is rubbish) so I can't see it troubling Google for quite some time.

  • Comment number 27.

    I think , Cuil is ontology and semanticly based, its good but not perfect technology for wide use. This is answer , why Cuil is better for structured information like science and business info search...

    ..and its good alternative to Google.

  • Comment number 28.

    The problem is a lot of people use Google every day, and so have learnt how to get the best from Google by the way they phrase the search.

    A search for "xfiles" gave me the BBC's site, a Linux command and a box set of 24.

    GroovySvengali - try Google Scholar.

  • Comment number 29.

    As with Eric-the-Bun (comment 14) I too have found my copyrighted work used to illustrate competitors' search results.

    I've emailed Cuil and instructed them to remove my images when used in this way, I'll keep you posted.

    Right now I have no sympathy for Cuil.

  • Comment number 30.

    I tried searching Cuil for the name of my website, which is currently listed on Page 1 of Google when you search for sites in its category. It didn't find it.

    So I tried searching for the exact URL of my website. Again, nothing.

    Then I looked for sites which link to mine, and found several - but the links were in articles which are at least a year old. I suspect that Cuil is using very old data.

    I might try using Cuil again in the future, but only when it's been updated. I do like the layout of its pages though, even though, as many have said, a lot of the accompanying images are obviously in completely the wrong place.

  • Comment number 31.

    My search experiences with Cuil were terrible.

    Pages dear to my heart were nowhere to be found, although pages that referred to those pages sometimes appeared.

    Searches for my university and the fields of either neuroscience or biology, more than once, took me to sites that were fronts for porn or sites that attempted to download suspicious software. I've never had this happen with Google.

    I felt uninformed and somewhat unclean after using Cuil.

  • Comment number 32.

    It has lost before it starts.

    Apart from great results, Google is clean, uncluttered and straightforward.

    Cuil is just trying to be too kewel..

    And by the way, Rory Cellan-Jones, are YOU sure you should be promoting a product with 0.00001% of marketshare?

  • Comment number 33.

    I did a search on a small domain name, Cuil took quite a while to return the results in an unexpected unclear manner. I clicked on the first heading for a set of links and was taken straight away to a page with various Porn/ Adult friendship adds, this despite Safe Search being enabled.

    I wont be using Cuil again. Not that I am against such material, just that I could have been an innocent child, or in a hurry, or looking for clearer results.

  • Comment number 34.

    I tried out cuil and wasn't impressed either. I wanted to add my website to it, a service which is simple to do on google but couldn't find any way to do it with cuil.

  • Comment number 35.


    A search for "splunge" turned up immediate Monty Python and other cultural references on Google.

    On Cuil, I saw nothing but honeypots and searchspam pages.


  • Comment number 36.

    The fact it isn't obvious for everyone how to spell the name shows what a bad choice of name it is.

    I told other people to try the site and had to spell it out for them.

  • Comment number 37.

    One thing I don't like about Cuil is there is no way to get UK only results.

    A bigger problem is the one that some people have mentioned already is using images from a one site beside the description of a different site. I searched for a game I have been playing (Two Worlds) to see what came up and was very surprised to see that beside the Wikipedia result there was a porn thumbnail (Safe Search was on). Also when searching for my wifes name (she has her own website about art she creates) there was a picture of an American couple (the lady shares my wifes name).

    I don't think I will be using Cuil.

  • Comment number 38.

    I searched for "Munchy Box", that wonderful Western Scotland delicacy, and all I got was Wikipedia and sites using Wikipedia content. Completely different from what was expected.

  • Comment number 39.

    please, it's a complete load of rubbish.

  • Comment number 40.

    It's not so cool when their name is fake. They say it is the Gaelic for "knowledge," but there is no Gaelic word, Irish or Scots, for knowledge which even remotely resemble "cuil." "Cuil" in both languages means "corner" or "insect." Again in both of these languages the common words for knowledge are "eolas" or "fios." They could have used one of these words, but it wouldn't be so "cool." What hope have they If they can't even get their own name right ?

  • Comment number 41.

    There was a reason that Yahoo and Google stopped the "index size wars" because it's all about relevant results not whos got the bigegst.Some of the results I've seen so poor lot's of keyword stuffing. I had high hopes for but it is a big disappointment.

    I will put it up there with Qtrax for the biggest flop on launch day. By adding beta next to their logo would of helped but trying to brand this as a finished engine is taking a leaf from Microsoft book of testing.

  • Comment number 42.

    Why would I want to see results laid out in such a stupid manner? It is the worst engine I have used.

  • Comment number 43.

    Search on "mike hancock mp"

    CAUTION - these results are shocking!!

  • Comment number 44.

    Gaelic for "bug"?

    That's about right ... this little webspider got crushed scampering across the info-highway.


  • Comment number 45.

    Firefox has an add-on that gives you previews of the actual page its linking to, interestingly enough called 'google preview'. Its far better than cuil, which isnt accurate.

    davt99.. I think in that case cuil was linking to whats most popular, and lets face it, we all know what the internet is REALLY for.

  • Comment number 46.

    I use Firefox and have it set up to warn me about new cookies.

    As you type a word into the Cuil box, it will attempt to complete it, but also sets cookies related to the possible completions. Eg. if you type "sam" then you will get a Samsonite cookie.

    This makes it unusable, and also undermines its privacy claims.

  • Comment number 47.

    #43, I've just tried that, and with safe search on, plus work web filters I got a dozen hardcore porn pictures appearing on my screen. Thankfully noone was looking over my shoulder.

  • Comment number 48.

    I've tried something even more disturbing. Try typing "iPhone" on Cuil. I got no correct pictures associated to the iPhone at all, and worst, in the "Apple iPhone" tab it shows me a picture of a very old phone.

  • Comment number 49.

    I don't think Google will be losing any sleep over this new search engine, nor will M$, yahoo, excite etc. for that matter.

    Pretty much unusable in its current form.

  • Comment number 50.

    Try searching 'cobol'. Google gives me near 8,000,000 results and Cuil gives me 0!

  • Comment number 51.

    About searching Cobol etc.., its shocking error because million people can see those programming errors, why they didn't push first relevant term like Cobol Programming or something else.

    They missed big chance , because it is future concept of searching.

  • Comment number 52.

    And about Synonyms and word roots:

    example : microsoft/ms buy/acquire yahoo

    I can't see synonyms built in Cuil..

  • Comment number 53.

    hmm not too impressed so far. I put in our company name a couple of days ago and it eventually appeared on page 7 of the results.. The image that came with it was some unrecognisable guy - the image was nowhere on our web server.

    Repeated the search today and apparently 'no results found'. Google has it as the #1 result. More work needs to be done methinks...

  • Comment number 54.

    I like the way it seems to occasionally use thumbnails of porn for totally unrelated websites.
    Im fibbing its rubbish.

  • Comment number 55.

    This is a pity, because although the tracking / information harvesting aspects of Google, Yahoo and all the rest really bother me I too found Cuil a waste of time, with most of the parameters I entered returning 'no results'. I really hoped that this could offer a viable alternative to the big players and shake things up a bit, but in it's current form it's absolutely unusable.

    This is why it's dangerous to allow one company to effectively develop a monopoly - they can do pretty much what they like with it. What I search for (unless it's illegal) is none of the Government's business, and someone should remind Google of that fact. Otherwise someone will come along in a year, maybe two, with a product that does everything their engine does but without the whole invasion of privacy thing to go with it.

    One word - Altavista. No-one is invincible.

  • Comment number 56.

    Yes, yes, but much more importantly: How good is it at finding us some decent filth?

    After all that's what 60 percent of the internet bandwith goes to!

  • Comment number 57.

    As with most people, I tried various searches for websites I knew existed and got absolute rubbish back. Seems Cuil doesn't read headers/titles/even web page addresses before looking through the text of a page.

    For those impressed with Cuil's ability to find academic papers etc, have you tried Google Scholar? I usually find it throws up some good results. And if you tell it what university you're at (though some might have privacy concerns with this) it will send you straight to where you can access the paper online.

  • Comment number 58.

    There doesn't seem to be any image search option, or video search for that matter.
    No "" version.
    There is no way I would use this over Google.

  • Comment number 59.

    GroovySvengali: For research, wouldn't Google Scholar be more up your street?

  • Comment number 60.

    Surely having a name that people can actually spell is a bit of a no-brainer? I like the way it looks but like many other people, I found the search results wanting. It simply doesn't work. A shame as I like the idea of a decent Google alternative.

  • Comment number 61.

    Very impressed with the design, but it didn't return what I was looking for. The site I searched for against my query was ranked #1 on Google and Windows Live, #2 on Yahoo, but nowhere to be found on Cuil.

    No so cool, I think.

  • Comment number 62.

    Hi there
    I am a web designer and thought, ok lets go and try it out. First day got loads of not found. Tried again today and it seemed better.
    Then I tried one of my old sites main key word "cashmere scarves". Was gutted that my site was nowhere. But what really shocked me was my images were being used to highlight other results. This has to be wrong! I am not that precious, and the image cuil like was a messy label "fashion scarves". But I cannot understand why they use my images for other sites (the image shows next to the first result of everypage). This has to be misleading if the images have no relation to the results. As well as annoying to the people who made those images! I have asked them for a response.

  • Comment number 63.

    Surely its cool, but tiny cuil is not a match to the giant google in no way.

  • Comment number 64.

    The problem you are having is that you are using archaic grammar. "What age is Gordon Strachan?" is not the common construction. Better would be "How old is Gordon Strachan?" which brings in 13 different sites about Gordon Strachan. The site is designed by Americans and if you are living here it works great. Google brings in huge amounts of unrelated articles. I tried all of your examples and they all worked for me, finding me what you claimed it couldn't. Why don't you try again?

  • Comment number 65.

    I've yet to try it out but will give it a go tonight as I agree with the observation that Google tends to swamp one with unrelated articles or ones of marginal relevance.

  • Comment number 66.

    If they start to put a dent in google they can look for a lot of money from me!

  • Comment number 67.

    The problem with modern technology (and this comes from a pretty darn savvy teenager) is that designers put too much into looks. It happened with Microsoft, is happening with facebook and it appears that Cuil have been caught in the same snare.

    Too much reliance is put on the ideology that "if it looks good, people will use it more". I admit that that helps draw in visitors and makes people think to themselves "oh, this looks sophisticated" or whatever else but that soon wears off.

    When I perform a search, I want a list of likely results. I don't need to see the website's logo, nor have the page laid out in a fancy manner. I just want to see a list of web pages which are relevant to what I'm searching for. What's in the surrounding area or the colour scheme of the page mean nothing to me.

    And it's not just that I don't care. I find Cuil's layout irritating. Google provides a straight list of results, reading down the page whereas with Cuil I'm confused as to what ranks highly and what's lowly. You can't just work down the page but instead have to work column-by-column or row-by-row (except, the rows aren't in nice straight table lines).

    So the answer is Cuil rates a low 15 on the cool scale. Though it's name reminds me of the mis-pronunciations of "cool whip" in a favourite Family Guy episode. Google doesn't offer me that.


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