f/k/a . . . the archives

July 31, 2008

chilly response to cuil

Filed under: viewpoint — David Giacalone @ 6:00 pm

cuilLogo . . . Uncool.

So far, the f/k/a Gang is not warming up to the new search engine cuil [pronounced "cool"], which went public on Monday. See “Former Employees of Google Prepare Rival Search Engine” (New York Times, July 28, 2008) Cuil says it is far more comprehensive than Google (indexing “all the internet” not just part of it), and that they’ll both protect the privacy of users and help you find more relevant results — by looking at the context of the searched term rather than just the popularity of the page where it is found, by giving you longer excerpts from the pages found, and by providing images to assist in your culling through the results.

Saul Hansell, of the NYT “Bits” weblog, had about the same reaction that I did on Monday:

I played with the site a fair bit when it turned on this morning. So far it doesn’t do much for me. My test of Ms. Patterson’s claim about the size of its search index was to type in the names of some not-so-famous high school and college friends. In half a dozen tries, Google consistently found more pages and put the more general and authoritative pages higher.


Many across the internet have had similar reactions in their reviews, including Tim Beyers of The Motley Fool, who wrote “Google is Cooler than Cuil” (July 29, 2008). The Guardian quotes a Techcrunch commentator: “If this wasn’t started by some ex-Googlers, nobody would give a hoot.” [update (Aug. 2, 2008) S. E. Kramer at Popular Mechanics has a lengthy review and says: "it's hard to see why anyone would use it as a backup engine, never mind as a primary one."]

Meanwhile, linguists have looked into Cuil’s claim that their name is derived from an old Irish word for “knowledge” and found it lacking. See Language Log and Language Hat. Language Log’s Mark Liberman notes: “There are two words `cuil’ that I know. One means `enmity’ or `bad attitude’ or `resentment’, . . . The other means `fly’.”

Others, such as Hanno Kaiser at the Antitrust Review weblog (see here and there) and Phillipp at Google Blogoscoped are having fun with the frequently misplaced photos that Cuil includes with their listings. (e.g., George Pataki for Bill Clinton, Martin Luther King, Jr., for Mahatma Gandhi) Some of the linked photos are rather bizarre and definitely funny. Don’t go asking for a date based on the image alone!

I’ve also noticed that if you right-click on a Cuil image, you don’t get referred to the original image Cuil has culled from the internet. Instead, you find the image on a cuilimg.com webpage. If you left-click on the result image, you are most often brought to a page that doesn’t even contain that image.

Thus, this photo of the street signs at the Schenectady intersection of Church and State Sts. (which I snapped myself) is included with many of the results when you Cuil-search “David Giacalone.”. But, the way Cuil has things arranged, you’d be hard-pressed to know that it originated here at f/k/a.



Monday night, like most first-time Cuil users, I did the vanity search of my own name, “David Giacalone.” The results were depressing. It took 14 pages before there was a direct link to this weblog, which is — let’s face it — the thing I’m best known for in cyberspace. On Tuesday, there was a link to f/k/a on the first Cuil page, but it gave no title for the posting, and showed mostly nonsense font for the text — not exactly likely to lead to a click-through. You then had to go many pages deeper into Cuil to find another link to f/k/a. Both Google and Yahoo! start right off with links to my homepage, when someone searches for “David Giacalone,” and Yahoo!’s second link is to our informative About page. A prominent Cuil result was to a site that said “No Profile has been submitted by David Giacalone.”

sleuthSm As the proprietor and author of this weblog, however, my concern with Cuil results goes much deeper than quibbling about misplaced and unidentifiable images, or over what happens when you search my name. If you come here often, you know that I have long been most amazed and grateful over our placement in Google and Yahoo! search results. (e.g., way back in May 2005, and just last May) For a wide variety of topics that mean the most to me, f/k/a lands at or near the top of the search results of the major search engines. As a result, my Stats Page tells me that this little weblog has had well over 100,000 visitors referred by Google in the past two years.

However, my browsing of topics at Cuil suggests that the flow of visitors will be greatly reduced if too many people switch from Google and Yahoo! to Cuil. And, because we often have quite detailed (and, yes, thoughtful and entertaining) pieces on topics that catch our fancy or our conscience, Prof. Yabut and Mama G. have concluded that the searching public will be the losers, if they switch from Googling to Cuil-ing.

For example:

  • Baseball Haiku: Nowhere else on the web will you find as many “real” haiku about baseball as we’ve got here at f/k/a. Our baseball haiku page went up in April 2005 with dozens of haiku and senryu on the subject. We’ve also been telling you about the wonderful Baseball Haiku book for a year and a half — and posting much more of its contents than any other website (because so many of our Honored Guests are included in the book). If you Google “Baseball Haiku”, our baseball haiku page is the first result, and our first major post about the book is the second result. In contrast, if you Cuil-it, you will find page after page of links to vendors selling the Baseball Haiku book, but no link to f/k/a until page 9. And, that link doesn’t even go to any of the many pages with the term “baseball haiku” in the title, which focus solely on the topic.

sides chosen
the boy not chosen
lends me his glove

…….. by Ed MarkowskiBaseball Haiku (2007); bottle rockets (7:1, 2005)

  • got breastmilk?” As we noted yesterday, the story of the “Got Milk?” folks going after the Alaskan breastfeeding advocate Barbara Holmes, who made a few “got breastmilk?” t-shirts, for trademark infringement has received a lot of blogispheric attention over the past week. If you Google /”got breastmilk?” alaska/ you’ll find nothing but links to relevant weblog posts (including ours) on the first page, and then many more after that. However, if you Cuil it, you will be steeped in links to WIC programs and advocacy groups, but not one of the measly 48 responses is about the trademark controversy. (One bonus from Cuil, however, was finding Barbara Holmes’ website.)
  • Speed Limits and Gas Efficiency: This important and timely topic only pulls up four results at Cuil, none of which discusses the science or politics of the issue. On the other hand, Googling /speed limits and gas efficiency/ garners over 200.000 results, with the national policy discussion monopolizing the first page, which includes a link to a major post here at f/k/a.
  • Obama Satire: Our post on The New Yorker cover is the 4th result today (it’s been higher) when you Google /Obama satire/. When I Cuil it, that posting does not appear on the first twelve pages of results (and I have no patience to keep clicking to see if it appears there at all). “Nuff said.

umpireG I could go on and on, but there would be little to gain from it. My biggest concern about the Cuil results I’ve seen so far is that it will be very hard for haiku fans to find the treasure trove of poems by each of our Honored Guest Poets. With Google or Yahoo!, searching the name of one of our poets will almost always bring their f/k/a Archives Page as one of the first few results (or at least on the first page). I tried lots of their names with Cuil, and could not find our archives pages listed at Cuil (although each of those pages has the poet’s name in its title), even when looking through a dozen pages of Cuil results. When there was an early link to f/k/a, it was often to a post that had no poetry and merely listed all 26 of our Honored Guests.

Like many others who have experimented this week with Cuil, I’m not sure what would draw me back. Rather than finding more relevant results than with Google or Yahoo!, I kept finding merchandisers and links to non-substantive mention of the issue searched, or to blog aggregators and not the posting in question. I’m going to spend my limited time with Mssrs. Google and Yahoo, and maybe head over to Cuil — with low expectations — if I strike out with the other two. Feel free to join me sticking with what works.

afterwords: (Aug. 2, 2008) Google says it has over 100,000 results for the query /Cuil responses/ and the post you are now reading has been #1 the past couple of days. The same query at Cuil has 26 results, only five of which are actually presented — none of which is this posting.

using his nose
the dog searches
the violets

… by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

one glass of wine
Google keeps asking
“Did you mean ____?”

stone sober
Cuil keeps saying
“no results were found”

.. by dagosan


  1. I also keep getting “no results were found” when doing searches with Cuil. I think they have a long way to go to be a competitor to Google.

    Comment by freddie SM — August 3, 2008 @ 12:57 am

  2. I was excited when I first heard about Cuil – but I was disappointed with the results as well. I think Cuil will have to do much more to substantiate their claim.

    Powerset on the other hand, was much more promising. They use linguistics to determine the true meaning of your search and offer an alternative to keyword-based searches. Microsoft recently acquired them, so this may help MS compete w/Google in the near future.

    [Ed. Note: Thanks for the info on Powerset. I wish you’d use a Name of a person rather than your company. It looks too much like Comment Spam and might get rejected in the future.

    Comment by Ix — August 4, 2008 @ 1:45 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress