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Cuil: Another Google Challenger Launches--to a Cool Reception

Posted by: Rob Hof on July 28, 2008

Just weeks after the last highly touted Google challenger, Powerset, was snapped up by Microsoft, a new one is launching Sunday night. Cuil (pronounced “cool” and previously sporting an additional “l”), boasts a Web index three times the assumed size of Google’s (though I’m not aware of Google admitting to a particular index size lately), a management team with an impressive pedigree (several people from Google), a different set of algorithms that in part analyze the content of pages, and a radically different presentation of search results.

I haven’t had much chance to check it out, since it just launched, but a few searches I tried tonight do provide intriguingly relevant results in an interesting, magazinelike format. Before I opine on this, however, I’m going to spend a few days trying it out in more depth.

UPDATE: A number of people, including a colleague at BusinessWeek, are experiencing periodic outages of the service, receiving messages on the site that say “Cuil servers are running a bit hot right now.” It’s working for me. But outages like this aren’t a good sign for a long-planned service right out of the gate.

UPDATE 2: Yikes, look at those comments from readers below. Lots of people are not very impressed so far. And here’s a real ouch: Search on “Cuil” or even “Cuil search engine” and you don’t get any results that include itself.

Search wizard Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land, not surprisingly, has the most complete analysis, and until I have a chance to dig deeper myself, I’d highly recommend his take. More at TechCrunch, GigaOm, and TechMeme.

Suffice to say that I agree with Danny that no matter how good it is, Cuil has a heckuva challenge getting traction against Google. And it’s not just because of people’s now-ingrained default to type “” when they’re searching for anything. It’s that Google has so many resources to bring to bear on anything that they can see working for a rival that they’re not likely to let anyone steal a march for long.

That said, it’s reassuring that startups like Cuil are continuing to push the envelope. More than ever, Google needs credible competition, and Yahoo and Microsoft aren’t yet providing it, if they ever will. Any company with 65%-plus market share, still growing, can grow complacent no matter how hard its founders and management team try to avoid it. Competition is the best antidote to that.

Reader Comments

Ken Leebow

July 28, 2008 8:41 AM

Looks like an interesting search engine, however, there seems to be no "rhyme or reason" for the order of its results.

Stephen Barclay

July 28, 2008 12:15 PM

hmmm.. They have problems..

We didn’t find any results for “t-SQL random numbers”

After a few times clicking the search button it finally coughed up some matches.

Google Rules~!


July 28, 2008 12:16 PM

Agree with Ken, and add that same results appear over and over throughout the additional pages of the search almost as if it is just being reshuffled.

For Cuil.The road is long.... it is good to see competition..I think the biggest obstacle for anyone will be overcoming the very vernacular of Google..."did you Google it?" is a staple now in our society.....


Randy Wehrs

July 28, 2008 12:17 PM

I tried a few searches and its results are far from comprehensive. It didn't show any matches for popular sites that I know exist! Not a google competitor at all.


July 28, 2008 12:19 PM

Cuil is the overrated search engine, I really do not understand what is sooooo special about it: results are usually "Finally, try to think of different words to describe your search" or results gave me very little useful information.
Forget about it.


July 28, 2008 12:21 PM

searched for
'unforgettable tour 2008 tickets'with and got no returns
then tried again with same search as above and got 2 results

got 188000 with google

Bollywood concert in Houston (among other places) at Toyota Center


July 28, 2008 12:24 PM

My first and only search for the string 'University of Missouri' returned 0 results. But at least they provide some good reasons for why the largest school in Missouri cannot be found on the web...

We didn’t find any results for “university of missouri”

Some reasons might be...

-a typo. Please check your spelling.
-your search includes a term that is very rare. Try to find a more common substitute.
-too many search terms. Please try fewer terms.

Finally, try to think of different words to describe your search.


July 28, 2008 12:25 PM

cuil is not so cool as they boast man. the search word "cuil" just is taking more than 5 minutes ( not 5 sec) man. it is still searching. google competitor haan.

Jeff R

July 28, 2008 12:26 PM

I tried their search engine and I didn't find what I was looking for but while on Google I found it immediately. Also you can't do a quick eye scan of the page to see the bold faced keywords. It's just not as simple, clear and effective as Google.

Mike Shao

July 28, 2008 12:28 PM

hmm let's see:

clustering (done before, see Yahoo! and Clusty)
GUI (nothing impressive)
so-called content ranking (guess what, everyone else does TFIDF too)
size (very vague term ... mostly likely a marketing gimmick)
semantic search (nope, none)
privacy (not important enough)

hello. goodbye.

honestly, I would like to see a little more collaborative filtering employed in relevance ranking.

Peet McKimmie

July 28, 2008 12:29 PM

The reason they have so many more pages indexed than Google is that they seem to be ignoring ROBOTS.TXT directives. I run a site that, when you search for its title, comes up as the #1 hit on Google, yet doesn't appear in their listings until page eight*, and the pages they have spidered are explicitly marked as no-archive and no-cache.

(*The first page of results includes a blog that has my site's title as one word in its title that hasn't been updated since 2002... My site has a thriving community, and has had since 2005.)


July 28, 2008 12:30 PM

I did a search on my name enclosed with quotes to search for exact phrase and 108,000 + results came up. None with my name.
Got a long way to go.
What's the hype?


July 28, 2008 12:32 PM

...and yet it cant find itself

Charlie Callaway

July 28, 2008 12:33 PM

When I click on "About CUIL" at the bottom I get a message saying "Oops! We couldn’t find that page.
Please verify that the URL is correct and try again."

That's not a great sign.


July 28, 2008 12:38 PM

I tried searching on a unique term (a unique domain name), and I found nothing but pages of auto-spam-generating web servers that return pages that contain keywords from the site you were searching for. Looks like they aren't doing link relevance like Google does. I am unimpressed, as the actual website with that domain didn't appear in search results until several pages later!!!

Wes Seal

July 28, 2008 12:38 PM

You are exactly right there is no rhyme or reason for its results. It also lacks the search capabilities of Google. Its results are very poor.. compared to Google, it rates a c- just below Live search.


July 28, 2008 12:38 PM

I'm vastly underwhelmed. I get the impression Cuil may be indexing only selected words. I tried a couple of searches I do occasionally on Google and Yahoo, and Cuil either returned no data or only one or two of thousands of relevant pages.

Mike Grant

July 28, 2008 12:40 PM

looks good but I dunno. Just typed in "Halle Berry" got no results. Typed in "Halle" got results titled "Halle Berry" ... they got some work to do


July 28, 2008 12:42 PM

come's still way behind results to'd see that google almost always ends up finding atleast 5x more pages containing the search can cuils index be bigger ? although i gotta say that the presentation of results is impressive..i get a feeling that cuil focuses on making the path to help you eventually find what u want easier, with it's tabbed-style suggestions etc. but their results are NOT as relevant as Google's. Google, Live and Yahoo search, ALL perform better than CUIL. Cuil's extravagant claims seem to me to be a cheap marketing gimmick..


July 28, 2008 12:43 PM

It's "cuil" to play with (pardon the pun) but the search results are defiantly not as strong as Google. And as the previous person mentioned the order of the results doesn't seem to make much sense. It is an interesting search but I think it's way too fancy and won't pose a threat to the comfortable and predictable Google.


July 28, 2008 12:43 PM

Aside from some of the dead links on the "About Us" site, I actually prefer's layout to google. It's easier to read, more organized, and I think the inclusion of pictures is a major plus. I'm going to default to cuil for a while and see how much I like it before ousting google as a search engine.

In order for something like cuil to compete with the google giant, they should consider other applications as well (google is a little overboard, I think, as far as # of applications goes). But, it may just work well as a stand alone search engine.

Overall opinion: I really dig it.


July 28, 2008 12:43 PM

Yeah it seems kinda odd. I searched for "cuil search engine" @ There were over 1,300 results but only two appeared on the results screen. With none being their site. I dont get it yet.

Also got alot of "Oops Page cannot be found" when browsing their "About Us" Section.


July 28, 2008 12:44 PM

Well it might have 3 times the search index of google, but it must not search the same things as google. I tried to search "Enterprise killers" (Which is a gaming squad that i am affiliated with) and it returned 0 results. Google returned 1,430,000! Maybe they should have taken their time and actually let their server's crawl some pages. I Remain a Google fan.

Great article btw.

K Guru

July 28, 2008 12:44 PM

Search does not find established webpages such as "Grina Technologies" and it repeats same results over and over. Does not have facilities to send the pages to index.

Paul G

July 28, 2008 12:45 PM

Looks like Cuil still has kinks to work out with searches for partial or combined "words." For example, a search for ICEFaces or EasiestWedding return no results at all, while Google happily returns appropriate results.

Corinne Hyde

July 28, 2008 12:46 PM

Cuil's search service seems to be substandard. I tried searching for the terms "crochet" and "crochet patterns" and "vegetarian" in 3 separate searches, and each time it told me there were no results for my search terms. Google returns 23,200,000 results for the term "crochet", 1,010,000 for "crochet patterns", and 62,600,000 for "vegetarian". Doesn't look like I'll be replacing Google with Cuil anytime soon.


July 28, 2008 12:47 PM

Slow and clunky. The layout is uncomfortable. And no way do they index 120x the sites that Google does. Just a few simple searches showed that Google has lots of content that Cuil doesn't have indexed.

Craig Reynolds

July 28, 2008 12:48 PM

Rob Hof wrote: "...though I’m not aware of Google admitting to a particular index size lately..."

1 trillion, see:
We knew the web was big...

Ernie Ploskunyak

July 28, 2008 12:51 PM

Can't seem to get it to work. Keep getting page cannot be found or No Results found - even for simple searches like "Weather". Extremely S L O W response time.

Lee Yarbrough

July 28, 2008 12:52 PM

Did 20 searches. Did not find any decent results on 18 of the 20 searches.

None of the "site photos" matched any of the url's displayed. Many not found web site results. They have tons of spam and old url's listed that are no longer active.

Servers kept timing out during searches.

Good luck to them but they have a very long way to go. Not worth using at this time.

Frank Black

July 28, 2008 12:52 PM

Results seem pretty lousy.

I tried 3 random searches and two returned no results while thousands were returned by Google.

max hodges

July 28, 2008 12:53 PM

>a radically different presentation of search results

grid instead of rows = radical?

it's very odd that it seems they are matching text results with images results that are not from the actual pages. i.e. a search for my company, "White Rabbit Press", shows results with images that are not part of my web site. very odd and disturbing.


July 28, 2008 12:53 PM

Quickly compared three searches between Cuil and Google ranging in complexity / specificity - Less relevant results on Cuil all three times.


July 28, 2008 12:54 PM

I found Cuil to be inferior to Google.
When you try searching for '52a750 calibration', Google returned 10 pages of results; all links on page 1 were valid. Cuil returned NO results. Wonder why they are getting so much air time when the technology (to me) is inferior to Google.


July 28, 2008 12:55 PM

well just tried it and well to be honest USELESS didn't find any of my own websites that Google and others find without a problem 0/10 for results miles to go to even get close to any search engine


July 28, 2008 12:55 PM

I tried it last night, my search string was, "dog wont eat" I clicked the 4th link, to my surprise I was presented with the old "you computer appears to be infected" pop up message. Which tried to get me to install software etc, etc,. This was an absolutely horrible first time experience for me. To be redirected to a spyware/malware installer my first time out. I wont be using CUiL again for the near future.

Mister Whirly

July 28, 2008 12:57 PM

I just did a search for my favorite singer/songwriter Paul Westerberg, and came up with zero hits. I mean, I know he isn't exactly the most mainstream artist, but zero hits? Google returned about 420,000 hits. I think I will stick with Google for the time being.


July 28, 2008 12:58 PM

Re. Cuil - I like the search results format (the layout of the main results - as well as that expanding list to the right).

But (I searched for "virtualization") I'm not sure I agree with the order of results retrieved. And it's very bizarre that "Netscape" would be an expanding tab phrase on the right. I'm not sure I get the connection between virtualization and Netscape.

I think where Google (and Cuil) are missing the mark is in having better separation between the commercial entities that fit the results, and the non-commercial stuff. If you are intimately familiar with a subject matter, it's easy to distinguish between the two. But if you are a newbie to a subject matter area, it's silly that you have to spend time culling through results to distinguish between "information" and "advertising." While Google may have the "ads" to the right side of the page as sponsor links, a lot of times the top results on the left sides are to white papers, vendor web sites and other product-centric materials. This seems like an area that could be better thought out to make it clearer to the user what's "objective" versus items / URLs whose existence is merely to "sell something."

Without a doubt, industries and niches are going to start getting much higher IQ search solutions that better distinguish between "content" and "advertising" ( Right now Google's not giving the user very intuitive separation between the two (no matter what the headers might say at the tops of the results pages, what's the true diff b/w what's on the right and the left?).


July 28, 2008 12:58 PM

Ok, i just threw somethin in their search engine and got NO responces in... still looking, same search in google, 230,000,000 for honda. (0.08 seconds)

now, you might think Im searching for something way out there but i typed in HONDA, its a car. and i did the searches at the same time.


July 28, 2008 12:59 PM

Tried searching Cuil for a wooden golf bag stand.... tried it a few different ways. No results. Also got errors like the one referenced above.


July 28, 2008 1:00 PM

I typed in lincoln and got nothing. tehn I capitalized it and got tons. Same with washington. Search is case sensitive. a minor drag. But when ai typed in greeek pantheon it chugged until i lost patience. New service, still has bugs but bigger blurbs on results lets you make better choices. I am book nmarking it for future use.


July 28, 2008 1:02 PM

Yeah, strange. When I search for my company, Stransky Design, it doesnt even come up, and we own

Does it not have us? Or does it not list domain names with the keywords you searched for just because theyre in the domain?


July 28, 2008 1:05 PM

When I typed my company's name in the search the first result was my company's url but with a wikipedia description. When i clicked on it, it took me to my website. Weird that it would have the wiki blurb even though that same blurb doesn't exist on my site.

Rob Hof

July 28, 2008 1:06 PM

Craig Reynolds: You're right that Google said it believes there are a trillion Web pages, but it did not say it's indexing all of those. In fact, it implied that it's actually indexing far less. But thanks for the link.


July 28, 2008 1:06 PM


July 28, 2008 1:07 PM

I just tried searching Albany, NY and came back with Zero Results.

I think so.


July 28, 2008 1:08 PM

I forgot to mention that spam sites came up on some of the results!


July 28, 2008 1:11 PM

After nearly 100 searches, I've concluded that Cuil's sorting algorithm sucks, and their index database sucks even more. A quick search for my own username that I use at every website reveals random foreign mirrors of sections of my info pages with nothing on them.
On Google, it lists my main profile pages and my own website, in the expected order of their importance and activity.

Many big (although not huge) websites don't even get any results. A query for "" or "" returns nothing but an error message.

Here's a list of some of the epic search fails, and what Cuil tried to send me to:
second life client download - homosexuality news / adult chatrooms (safe search was ON)
facebook sdk - american jews
wikipedia - jennifer lopez


July 28, 2008 1:25 PM

I just tried to access the "about Cuil" link and it's down. Did a couple of searches and got weird stuff ... maybe I'm just not hip enough for this.


Jason Wallwork

July 28, 2008 1:50 PM

Google claimed recently in their blog that their index had glided past 1 trillion unique URLs:


July 28, 2008 1:51 PM

I wonder if the developer realizes that cul (without the i, but sounds the same) is a popular vulgar word in the French language. Wouldn't something like that be important to consider?


July 28, 2008 2:04 PM

My search returned 1815 results, but "cuil" would only allow me to see only about 20. Many times I do find relevant results beyond the first or second results page... This engine is l-a-m-e.


July 28, 2008 2:09 PM

The hype about C u i l seems like a joke


July 28, 2008 5:51 PM

What's up with black background color at Didn't they take any web usability cources/classes in college? White background (the standard) should be used's simple, easy on the eye. like you know google/yahoo/ask, etc..

I won't use it until they change it.

Steven Blinn

July 28, 2008 8:19 PM

Not sure what the news is, that former Google employees started a rival company or that Cuil indexes more pages.

Either way, you're still going to have to click through a bunch of junk to find what you want.

BTW, there is free software available from Surf Canyon (http://www.surfcanyon) that makes search better and faster by re-ranking Google, Yahoo! and MSN on the fly.

How many times have you enter a search on Google or Cuil and get millions of results, there has to be something valuable beyond page one. Digging through all those pages, however, is too time-consuming, so few people do it.

Surf Canyon helps solve this problem. The technology observes your actions as you search, automatically figures out what it is that you want and then, on the fly, digs as deep as page 100 the search results and fetches it for you. It's like a search engine for the search results.

Steven Blinn


July 29, 2008 1:13 AM

One more pre-matured baby, waiting in ICU/ventilations to die soon. The search results are irrelevant to the last extent possible, no logic in presenting the result, its like trying to find your diamond studded wedding ring (I am sure all our searches are that relevant to us) in the corner dump yard of your city. Well I made my hands dirty once and not going to do it again for sure! This is a big joke and these days, anybody who has worked in Google for a day (may be even as a store boy or a watchman) tries to present himself or herself as the greatest tech mind, capable of doing wonders. This is highly overrated and would be grateful if such undesired media coverage is not bestowed on such worthless ventures.


July 29, 2008 5:58 AM

I tried many searches...i am based out of india and did couple of relevant searches for the Solar Energy Policy. Too early to tell but Cuil didnt find anything worth reading, not even close to relevant.

Google got me what i wanted to read on teh third link...

Bad experiance at an early stage...not leaving google for this one..


July 29, 2008 8:48 AM

looking for "UJDA770 firmware" and gives me unexpected pictures' links on first page instead of sites for MATSHITA UJDA770 DVD/DD-RWR like google does.

Doug in Toronto

July 29, 2008 10:45 AM

I haven't had any problems with it so far. Even if I did, I'd chalk them up to first-day growing pains. There seems to be a tendency to pan everything as soon as it comes out (Vista and the iPhone being the most prevalent examples). As a QA professional, I realize that it's not possible to test for absolutely everything, and sometimes it's necessary to take a certain leap of faith. Cuil will improve given time, and a willingness on the part of users to give it that time.

Aditya Pandit

July 29, 2008 10:54 AM

I am sure not a single person in the media did a couple of searches on cuil before writing their pieces on cuil. Reports about the next-google beater kept popping up everywhere. 3 searches is all it took to find what a big failure this cuil is. Do a little homework journos don't just copy paste the press releases into stories.


July 29, 2008 11:01 AM

True, I searched the same phrase in GOOGLE as well as CUIL and Google resulted several results while CUIL resulted none. but when searched with different phrase, I liked the output. its different.


July 29, 2008 11:15 AM

It's just another search engine. There are plenty of search engines. The difference with Yahoo and Google is that they generate billions in revenue. People complain about Web page ads but that is what pays for the free internet. If you want to support the internet then support the Web page advertisers.

Walker Fenton

July 29, 2008 11:43 AM

The images next to the results are misleading...

Jeff Pallin

July 29, 2008 11:51 AM

Let's face it - we all want to see credible competition to Google, we all see the benefit of that, we all embrace the idea of a free and open marketplace (read: internet)free from monopolistic domination be it in search, operating system, etc. Yet the quick-to-judge comments, with less than 24 hours out of the chute, and an impatient atmosphere - gee, they should have planned better - just plays into the hands of those very monopolistic dominating few unforgiving and cruel giants.

I got to believe it is going to be very difficult for anyone to take up sword and shield and fight Google in the world of search.

Give them a wee bit of a chance here. I need some Kleenex, oh, uh tissue.


July 29, 2008 11:58 AM

I tried to look up "Kennedy Space Center" and it came up with 0 results. Very unimpressed.


July 29, 2008 12:22 PM

I wonder if they ever considered their name as a verb. Just as we now tell people to "Google it," what would someone think if you told them to "Cuil it"?


July 29, 2008 12:41 PM

Tried few searches with Cuil - Results no good. I think the ex-Google guys should go back to Google, learn more.

CUIL pronounced as 'cool' but means CRAP.


July 29, 2008 2:45 PM



July 29, 2008 3:01 PM

on the first place their about page showed page cannot be found error. I think may be they have some stuffs. But they need some more focus. Seems to me that they are rushing and cash up on the tag name "All Ex-Googlers". But I will surely use it if it sounds better than google to me.

Phil Hardwick

July 29, 2008 4:50 PM

I entered my organization's name in the search engine box. The first result was correct, but the image was from a totally unrelated state agency in another state. I clicked on the image and it went to my Web site. Very weird. No Google competitor here.


July 29, 2008 5:41 PM

How are these guys gonna make money? Banners? I can almost decide then and there, based on the content provided (which by the way is repeated several times), whether or not to click on the link.



July 29, 2008 5:49 PM

I'll give them another try after the initial interest dies down. I do so want to give my search traffic to someone other than Google, but my first attempts weren't encouraging. It said there were 472 entries for my name but only showed me two of them, in Swedish (my last name means something in Swedish). I guess it thinks the other 470 weren't of interest to me.

David Charles

July 29, 2008 6:12 PM

Wow, another ill-structured search engine that's sure to deliver even more irrelevant search results! What are the failure rates of VC funding again?


July 29, 2008 7:44 PM

Yeah i've been running the same searches on both search engines, and whilst cuil as a more intersting interface though i think it could do with some slight tweaking, the results im getting are really scattered I'm getting a lot more relevent results from google, and i get a lot of can't be found results from cuil which is pretty bad, they could at least offer suggestions if the results find nothing, also the results don't seem to be location specific which I find really annoying especially if im looking for the website of a business here in my area, it seems to give me all possible results location non specific which isn't good.

Sarabjit Mann

July 29, 2008 8:20 PM

Cuil is no way neer to "COOL" and catching a google is far away.It don't give even basic results and google spit in the blink of the eye.
Another addition to web 2.0 failure startups.


Dave R

July 29, 2008 10:02 PM

I got about 3,600 business ads for for the coastal community of Grayland, Washington, which has a population of about 1,700. There may not be more than 50 business in this town. I don't think I got a single article about Grayland, just a bunch of ads that pasted the name to Grayland to businesses that don't even do business there. Google has nothing to worry about. If they were looking for healthy competion they didn't get it for Cuil. I feel sorry for the people who launched this, they must be really embarrassed by it.


July 30, 2008 12:40 PM

We were really dismayed with the search results of CUIL. What is particularly concerning was the pairing of images from my company's site with our COMPETITORS!

So, we do all of the hard work, and they give away any benefit of that work to our competitors? And, even worse, sometimes our competitors logos were placed on links to our site! What the F?

Until such egregious errors are totally fixed, this search engine isn't worth going back to.

Oh, and one more dig. Why can't I type in a search phrase and press return on their main page? Why make me click the Search button? (This is Firefox on a Mac)

Ignore CUIL for now. That's my advice.

Jason Wise

July 30, 2008 2:51 PM

I don't think they are quite ready for prime time. There is a lot of spam that shows up in search results. For example, keyword stuffed pages that would be filtered out at any of the other major search providers. It will be interesting to see where they are a few months from now.

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