Former Google search experts have revealed what they hope will be a threat to their previous employer's dominant search service. The new engine is named Cuil, after the Gaelic word for "wisdom." It's perhaps not the catchiest name ever, but neither was Google, before it became a household name. The people at Cuil claim the new search engine uses far fewer servers than the search leader, yet indexes a much larger chunk of the Web. It also purports to produce more relevant search results, because the information it returns in response to queries is based on organization of ideas rather than link popularity. A final—and important—differentiator from Google is that Cuil, according to the company, doesn't collect information on its users' search histories or IP addresses. Of course, that last advantage is significant only if the product is worth using.
The home page, which is mostly a black, open space, is even more minimalist than Google's. There are no menu options for Images, Maps, News, Shopping and so on, but if you're simply looking for Web results, that's not really a problem. Just below the search-text entry box, Cuil touts the number of pages it claims to have indexed—over 121 billion at this point, which cofounder (and former Google index architect) Anna Patterson claims is the most comprehensive index of any search engine and more than three times the size of Google's. The company plans to index the entire Web with its Twiceler crawler. Depending on whose figures you believe, Cuil is less than 20 billion pages away from getting the whole 141 billion shebang under its belt. But a recent Google blog post counters that number, stating that its engineers had noted a total Web page population of over 1 trillion, adding that their index was still the biggest—without actually stating how many pages it contains.
The Cuil site was occasionally unresponsive when I tested it on the first day of its availability. I even had readers tell me they encountered no results for obvious queries, such as large city names. Later in my testing, however, the result pages appeared populated and accurate.
As with Yahoo! (but not Google or Microsoft Live Search), when you start entering a search term, suggestions appear in a drop-down list. This can speed the process, especially if you're not sure how to spell the full phrase. Don't confuse this with the auto-complete feature of browsers, which produces suggestions based on your history in a browser. I have one issue with Cuil's implementation, though: The first suggestion often seemed to be more of a marketing link than a useful suggestion. You can, however, turn off the feature in the Preferences menu.
Another thing I missed when searching in Cuil was spelling correction suggestions: Most modern search sites will suggest fixes for your typos, but Cuil presents results for whatever you type, even if you've misspelled it. When I searched for "south americe" I did get a couple of results on South America, but no indication that I ought to try again