Does Cuil just offer more to ignore?

Google’s latest challenger stepped into the ring today, and it’s already throwing punches. Cuil, pronounced “cool,” spouted all weekend to reporters that its search engine rummages through 120 billion web pages – triple the number that Google indexes.

That’s a hard number to fact-check. Google stopped bragging about the size of its index three years ago. At last count it was 8.2 billion pages. Google wouldn’t release the current number, but insists that it’s still “the most comprehensive index of any search engine.”

Even if Cuil’s catalog is greater than them all, is it enough to lure users away from Google? In anticipation of Cuil’s debut, the official Google blog announced this Friday that it’s aware of 1 trillion unique web pages. But it only allows you to search maybe 4 percent of those – if you believe the industry estimate that Google indexes 40 billion pages.

Why so few? “Many of them are similar to each other, or represent auto-generated content … that isn't very useful to searchers,” says Google’s Friday post.

I like imagining the Internet as an endless source of useful information; but, really, when I enter a search in Google, Yahoo, or Ask, I only look at the first few results. And I never go deeper than the top 50.

But there are hundreds, some times millions of other pages that I could have clicked on. Do I really need Cuil to triple the number of results that I ignore?

Cuil comes from a good pedigree, though. Several of its executives are Google alumni, and one of them, Anna Patterson, launched a search engine that “was so impressive that industry leader Google Inc. bought the technology in 2004 to upgrade its own system,” the AP writes.

Excitement about Cuil has attracted $33 million in venture funding. A good start to be sure. But Yahoo and Microsoft have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to bring down the search giant. It’s done little good.

Google delivers 62 percent of all US searches, up from about 40 percent in 2004. Yahoo gets 22 percent. Microsoft trails at 8.5 percent – and that’s after buying several of the more interesting search startups, including the natural-language based Powerset. Then there are the brave boutique engines: Viewzi, Vivisimo, Snap, Mahalo, Redzee, ManagedQ, etc.

Each site fiddles with aesthetics. Tweaks its catalog. Sprinkles in its own flavor. Meanwhile Google has succeeded by keeping things simple. Ms. Patterson also makes this point, but says it with a touch of scorn: "Google has looked pretty much the same for 10 years now, and I can guarantee it will look the same a year from now."

I'm not convinced that looking the same is a bad thing. You know, if it ain't broke....

But what does it take to make a better search engine? A larger index? Smaller? A different layout? What do you think, readers? What would your perfect search engine look like?

Also check out:
Update: Forget Jeeves, ask Powerset
Microsoft: We’ll pay you to search
Search engines with more sparkle
No more Micro-hoo

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