Google’s web-hegemony has become so unquestionable at this point, that any attempt to topple it comes off not as merely futile, but as a kind of Brechtian joke. The successors to the search-engine standard line up, boast revolutionary features and vamped-up security. They have vague, inviting names like ChaCha and the Jeeves-less Ask.com. And yet, it’s all tech-nerd theater. Nothing changes, nobody cares. In a best-case-scenario, most people will simply search Google for the details on its own ostensible competition.
A new model named Cuil (and pronounced, unexpectedly, “cool”) goes online today. Engineered by former Google employees as reported by HuffPost , the engine boasts access to a larger pool of websites (120 billion) than its rival, and can organize search results graphically by category. The site’s homepage is a troubling, portentous black, and the logo, “Cuil” in a Helvetica-ish font with a blue-dyed “i”, is decidedly less cheery than the G-spot’s rainbow Times New Roman. The presentation, sparse, spacey, and emphatically inhuman, needs some work. By contrast, Google’s homepage today features an adorable drawing of Peter Rabbit being chased with a rake. Even though the massive Menlo Park-based corporation might be evil underneath its pastel sheen, I still feel safe searching in its coddling hands. With Cuil, I couldn’t shake the creeping fear that the system would throw me nothing but tentacle porn and pages in German.
But how about the crucial diagnostics? Here’s a rundown of my intensive trial sesh:
-Search for my name turned up 6,040 hits on Google, 384,375 hits on Cuil. I’m obviously more ubiquitous on the latter, but also less existent. There’s a lot on nonsensical stuff about Linux and some guy named Jeff on the first page. Google, meanwhile links to that video of me singing a song about pirates on YouTube pronto. Verdict: TIE
-Looking for illegal music is hit or miss with both methods. As with before, Cuil racks up obscene numbers of hits, but doesn’t focus content to the extent Google does. I know what I want is here somewhere, but it might take weeks of clicking “next” to find it. Also, Google puts up more links to viable commercial outlets, like Amazon or Rhapsody. If I wanted to pay for music, I would pay for it. Verdict: CUIL, by a hair.
-Google bombs are alive and well on Cuil. “Miserable failure” still nets a million articles on Bush. The first link for “French Military Victories” on Google remains a mock-up page referring you to the search term “French Military Defeats”. Cuil, however, goes the whole nine yards, displaying no search results and delivering the devastating message “We didn’t find any results for French Military Victories.” Verdict: CUIL.
Of course, Cuil does not have a lot of the nifty featurettes we’ve come to expect on G-love. There’s no “I’m Feeling Lucky” button, there’s no maps, or images, or video search. There’s no cloud-computing gadgetry. But unlike most of the search-engine also- rans, the app manages to impress with the sheer brute force of its content turnout. The web is big, but Cuil makes it seem bigger. Which, of course, is terrifying. But also, well, kind of cool.