Warming Up To Cuil

March 1, 2009
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It wasn’t so long ago that Cuil launched and I offered a pretty cold appraisal. Of course, I wasn’t the only one to be underwhelmed after they under-delivered on their pre-launch hype. You’d think start-ups would have figured out by now how to better manage expectations. After playing with the site for a couple of days last summer, I wrote Cuil off as dead on arrival.

But, to my surprise, Cuil did not just roll over and die. In fact, it has improved a lot while I–and most of the world–ignored it. And, just the other day, Stephen Arnold wrote a post entitled “Cuil.com Gets Better” that inspired me to take another look, even before seeing today’s post on Search Engine Land about their new timelines feature.

Initial reaction: the folks at Cuil have definitely stepped up their game. But, compared to when they launched a year ago, I’d say the bar has gone up too. I’d compare Cuil to Kosmix, as they seem to  have similar interface goals. Both have warts; I’ll need to play with both for a while to decide which I like better.

Here are two queries that I tried, inspired by Arnold’s post at the Beyond Search blog:

It wasn’t so long ago that Cuil launched and I offered a pretty cold appraisal. Of course, I wasn’t the only one to be underwhelmed after they under-delivered on their pre-launch hype. You’d think start-ups would have figured out by now how to better manage expectations. After playing with the site for a couple of days last summer, I wrote Cuil off as dead on arrival.

But, to my surprise, Cuil did not just roll over and die. In fact, it has improved a lot while I–and most of the world–ignored it. And, just the other day, Stephen Arnold wrote a post entitled “Cuil.com Gets Better” that inspired me to take another look, even before seeing today’s post on Search Engine Land about their new timelines feature.

Initial reaction: the folks at Cuil have definitely stepped up their game. But, compared to when they launched a year ago, I’d say the bar has gone up too. I’d compare Cuil to Kosmix, as they seem to  have similar interface goals. Both have warts; I’ll need to play with both for a while to decide which I like better.

Here are two queries that I tried, inspired by Arnold’s post at the Beyond Search blog:

From an architecture point of view, it may not be fair to compare Cuil, which does its own crawling and indexing, to Kosmix, which federates results from other services. But they seem to be aiming for similar experiences, which is all that users care about. Though one advantage Cuil has is that, because it uses its own index, it is much, much faster than Kosmix.

In any case, I’m happy to see more attention going to exploratory search, and I am glad that a few companies are bold enough to try to make it work on the web. Perhaps Microsoft will try too, with Jan Pedersen and Stefan Weitz tilting Kumo-emblazoned banners at the grand challenges cited by their co-workers. These are early efforts, but they are promising.

And, to anyone whose technology I’ve criticized harshly in the past, please see posts like these as a sign that I do notice improvements, and that I am more than willing to reconsider my assessments in the face of new evidence.

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