July 28, 2008, 12:00 AM

Former Google engineers launch Cuil search engine

With search engine architecture experience from Google and IBM, husband-and-wife team Anna Patterson and Tom Costello have joined former Google software engineer Russell Power to launch search engine Cuil.com.

With search engine architecture experience from Google Inc. and IBM Corp., husband-and-wife team Anna Patterson and Tom Costello have joined former Google software engineer Russell Power to launch search engine Cuil.com. They claim that Cuil has indexed 120 billion web pages, more than three times that of any other search engine.

Cuil’s founders contend their search engine is based on new proprietary architecture and algorithms that rank search results solely on web content rather than also on the number of clicks. This provides a richer display of results and offers user-friendly features such as tabs to further clarify subjects, images to identify topics and suggestions for refining results to get to specific information, they say.

“The web continues to grow at a fantastic rate and other search engines are unable to keep up with it,” says Costello, Cuil’s CEO. “Our significant breakthroughs in search technology have enabled us to index much more of the Internet, placing nearly the entire web at the fingertips of every user. In addition, Cuil presents searchers with content-based results, not just popular ones, providing different and more insightful answers that illustrate the vastness and the variety of the web.”

Prior to co-founding Cuil, Costello worked in research and development of search engine technology at Stanford University and IBM Corp. Patterson is best known for her work at Google, where she served as the architect behind Google’s search index and led a team of engineers working on the ranking of web pages. Patterson and Power were colleagues at Google.

“Since we met at Stanford, Tom and I have shared a vision of the ideal search engine,” says Patterson, Cuil’s president and chief operating officer. “Our team approaches search differently. By leveraging our expertise in search architecture and relevance methods, we’ve built a more efficient yet richer search engine from the ground up. The Internet has grown and we think it’s time search did too.”

Google declined to comment directly about Cuil’s claim of having three times as many indexed web pages. “We welcome competition that stimulates innovation and provides users with more choice,” Google said in a statement. “Having great competitors is a huge benefit to us and everyone in the search space-it makes us all work harder, and at the end of the day our users benefit from that.”

Shar VanBoskirk, a search marketing analyst with Forrester Research, says Cuil can bring important competition to search engines. “Google and Yahoo have owned the search engine world for years now, primarily because it was so expensive to create and manage a search platform, so I like that Cuil is taking them on,” she says.

But Cuil has issues to iron out, starting with the relevancy of search results, she adds. “The search results are not as relevant as I think they’d like them to be,” she says. “If it doesn’t deliver relevant search results, it doesn’t matter how many pages it indexes.”

She adds that Cuil’s interface is “interesting and different,” but one that consumers may resist in favor of the more familiar Google interface. “People are used to the Google format of search results,” VonBoskirk says. “The catalog format Google has pioneered is going to be a tough one for anyone to disrupt.”

A search on Cuil for “digital camera” showed 11 paragraphs of text on the first page of results linked to information sites like dpreview.com as well as online retailers like Buy.com, plus a separate “Explore by Category” box that supports search and navigation by topics such as digital SLR cameras and individual brands. The same search on Google showed a larger number of links on the first page with less descriptive text, including 10 natural search results and 11 sponsored links. Google’s first page also showed additional links in a books section and several links under similar search terms.

VanBoskirk adds that the new search engine’s name, which is pronounced “cool,” may have difficulty winning favor with consumers. “It doesn’t have an intuitive pronunciation, nor is it easy to spell,” she says. “These things make a difference in getting consumers to find and try the search engine.”

Cuil is backed by venture capital firms Tugboat Ventures, Greylock Partners and Madrone Capital Partners.

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