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 Cuil.com 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 “google.com” 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.