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This article was originally intended as something of a reluctant love-letter to the overall efficiency and usefulness in the absence of anything better, of a certain Google, the search engine of choice for the vast majority of the world's internet-surfing population. However, I can't hit publish without jumping on the already groaning bandwagon and mentioning yesterday's release of 'Google-beating' search engine cuil.com (pronounced 'cool'). Ugh!
For those of you who can't be bothered to read through the following page, here's the abridged version: Cuil set themselves up for a big fall and duly obliged. Google have a built a Cuil-beating search engine.
Cuil (reported on the site as being derived from the Gaelic word for 'knowledge' and 'hazel', but failing to mention it also means 'rear') is the brainchild of three ex-Google engineers, boasts a bigger index, and has been touted around the major media outlets specifically as the search engine to take on Google and win.
So Cuil opened its gates to the public on Monday 28th July 2008, to a fanfare from such respected institutions as the BBC, CNN, the Birmingham Metro -
- And promptly fell flat on its face.
A larger index than Google maybe, but also an inability to return results relevant to the initial search query. The most damning insight being that if you type 'Cuil' into the search box their own search engine doesn't show up on the first page – I couldn't be bothered to see if it was on the next page – which, I think, is how a lot of people will feel. The relevancy of the results being returned is shocking. There are numerous occasions of a search term returning no results whatsoever, from an index of 121,617,892,992 web pages (although it's been suggested that this is a bug), and the site of yours truly site is absolutely nowhere for 'essence seo'. Harrumpphh!
There have also been reports of results being US-centric and ignoring the searcher's geo-location, this seems to be the case with generic terms where (in the case of service-based queries) they should really be returning websites from the same country as the searcher, something Google does without thinking.
And then there's also the fact that yesterday, at least, there were broken links on the 'About us' page – an absolute no-no for such a high profile launch.
All is not well at casa Cuil, and so it's back to Google we go, tails between our legs, begging forgiveness for ever doubting them and thinking that another lame contender could usurp their crown...
Well, sort of. It's actually to Google I go with a "well done" and a firm slap on the back; as opposed to the sideswipes and digs that their market dominance, occasional (some-might-say) underhand tactics, double standards and arrogance usually draws.
It's true, yours truly has not been adverse to the odd dig at Google every now and then. Just take a gander at these fine beauties and you'll see that I can occasionally be complicit in the Google bashing that has become as staple a trend in the search industry, as Microsoft bashing in the development industry.
But lo, I have travelled the road to Damascus and experienced the obligatory epiphany, and whilst the absolute power Google wields may still sit uneasily with me, along with their focus having shifted from creating and maintaining the world's best and unquestionably most relevant search engine to making more and more money by any means necessary; I concede that by and large they are still doing an exceptional job and doff my trilby to them accordingly.
To Google, with all their cheeky-chappy arrogance, constant criticism is nothing more than the proverbial drop-drop off of the proverbial duck's back. And it's easy to forget that before Larry Page had the notion that not only the number but also the nature of links pointing to a web page were an indication of that page's importance, we were lumbered with substandard search engines such as Hotbot, Excite, AOL, altavista, Yahoo, et al. that although trying their best, couldn't quite cut the mustard when it came to delivering a page of results tuned into what a searcher was actually looking for.
Started as a research project in 1996, Google the search engine didn't really begin to seep into the public consciousness until around the end of 1998/ early 1999, by which time they'd indexed around 60 million pages.
Google delivered a firm kick to the collective nether regions of what had become a pretty stagnant market, letting it be known, in no uncertain terms, that the existing web portals should either shape up or ship out. By incorporating Pagerank - the link analysis algorithm and the fruit of the initial research project - they could deliver results with a relevance that was sorely lacking from their competitors, in a time when search engine indexes were swimming in a sea of spam.
There was also the minimalist interface, which despite a few cosmetic touches hither and indeed thither, remains largely unchanged to this day. White background; the familiar colours of the Google logo; and the search box. This simplicity echoed Google's ease of use and the fact they were by and large delivering what a user asked for without the unnecessary frills attached. Just take a look at the homepages of Yahoo and MSN*, or practically any other search engine, and witness all that clutter. A sure case of trying to compete at Google's level by providing the mouth but neglecting the all-important trousers.
*Live Search interface has gone back to basics. Shame about their results.
At the end of the day, Google is the best we've got and leaves the competition, Cuil and all, trailing by several furlongs. It isn't perfect; some of the actions of the company are far from perfect; but without Google and its revolutionary approach to the internet, search would be a damn sight less effective as a marketing tool, and more importantly, as a user experience than it is now.
Therefore, I once again doff my trilby and congratulate Google on seeing off yet another competitor – and they didn't even have to get out of bed to do it.
Bugs, irrelevancy, broken links, and images seemingly pulled randomly from out of a hat did all the hard work.
Cuil had their big chance but failed to test sufficiently. This - along with leaving themselves open to all manner of criticism by staging such a metaphorical tickertape parade of a launch, littered with outlandish claims - has seen the initial buzz blow up in their faces. The moment has passed; tomorrow will see everybody return to Google... And life goes on as normal.
Agree? Disagree? Don't care? Perhaps you should let me know with a comment or two...