Cool, but not.

Anytime there’s an exodus of talent from a major player like Disney (Pixar, Dreamworks), or in this case, Google, it gets a lot of attention because it usually means someone’s going to make something good. The internet story du jour (and discussed during a picnic at work today, too) is the new search engine Cuil, pronounced cool. After checking it out, I have decided that although it has a few nifty features, it seems almost useless compared to the Big G.

Rather than distribute searches amongst many servers around the world, Cuil sends each search to a specific computer. I tried typing “The Inoculated Mind” into Cuil, and before I was halfway, it already suggested the full title of my blog. “The Inoculated Mind” actually has a place on one of their servers, facilitating any search for it. How special!

When I hit the search, the differences between Google and Cuil became palpable. Cuil organizes its search results into columns, an array of boxes on one screen, and puts a related topic/category menu on the right. Anti-creationism, Space Shuttle Missions, and Science Blogs comes up for me. Strangely, so too do “american films” maybe because of the scifi soundtracks in my podcast? Images related to each search hit pop up in some of each of the 11 boxes, usually a generic “Science News” button.

But what should come up in those search hit boxes is what concerns me. Hit after hit, and page after page are merely piles of podcast feed hits, from all those sites that index podcasts. Mefeedia hits dominate a search for my site, and wikipedia appears at the top. But no where in the search does this site even come up! I searched through 20 search pages and not once did come up. My profile on typepad came up, and that was about it. Apparently, you cannot reasonably find my site by searching for it with Cuil.

Google, by comparison, puts it right at the top. Search for my name, my podcast, or whatever, and my site is right at the top, very easy to find. Why is this? It is because every time someone links to my site with the words “Inoculated Mind” or “Karl Mogel”, etc, Google bumps my site up in importance for that search. This has led to something called Google Bombing, where you get many people to link to one site or page with the same words, bumping that site up very rapidly. It worked for Expelled!

Cuil, in contrast, works by ranking pages more in terms of the content of those pages, like how often an entered term shows up on the page. This explains why The Inoculated Mind turns up mirrors of my podcast feed over and over again, because each one shows “The Inoculated Mind” like 60 times. So supposedly, a good idea to help people find what they’re looking for more easily, results in a huge cloud of useless links, at least when you have a podcast.

To give Cuil another test, I was looking for a metal canister with a pour spout for Ariela’s candlemaking enterprise, and Cuil failed again. The handy-dandy images that display in the search hits on Cuil invariably showed pictures of metal golf club heads. On a search about metal oil cans, or teapots, etc. On the search hits for metal oil cans themselves. Looks like a bad algorithm, for what seems to be a nice idea.

So at least for a few months; I don’t expect Cuil to be very popular, because it doesn’t seem to be very useful for finding what I need.

Published by

Karl Haro von Mogel

Karl Haro von Mogel serves as BFI’s Director of Science and Media and as Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. He has a PhD in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from UW-Madison with a minor in Life Sciences Communication. He is currently a Postdoctoral Scholar researching citrus genetics at UC Riverside.