What a new search engine should be about

By July 29, 2008Google, Search

There has been an awful lot of chatter about Cuil in the blogosphere over the last couple of days. The biggest memes have been (not very positive) reviews, the way the launch was bungled because the site is still buggy, and the way the launch was fantastic from a PR point of view.

For me the interesting question is Cuil’s strategy.

For sure search is an attractive market and given Google’s market share, margins and search quality issues it is only right that there should be plenty of challengers. And there are hundreds – AltSearchEngines is an entire site dedicated to covering the sector.

But if I was going after Google I would not choose to major on the themes Cuil picked out

  • size of index,
  • less emphasis on popularity to determine relevance, and
  • privacy

My instinct is that most searchers are:

  • not looking for needles in haystacks and for them Google’s index is more than big enough,
  • don’t worry too much about the search algorithm (so long as it sounds sensible), and
  • don’t feel too threatened by Google’s privacy position

That said, Cuil are backed by some smart money, so there are obviously multiple valid opinions in this space.

If I was going to challenge Google I would focus on areas like using social search to cut out spam, allowing natural language queries, foreign language search, mobile and maybe video. These are the areas where I think it is possible to be both distinctively different than Google and much better than them (although their recent social search experiments are a warning how quickly things could change).

  • I wouldn’t go up against Google. I’d rather come up with something which either Google uses, or can be exploited via Google. We don’t need more search engines. If we did, we’d still have the likes of Excite – the first to introduce strings; handsome + nic + equity + boy

  • I wouldn’t go up against Google. I’d rather come up with something which either Google uses, or can be exploited via Google. We don’t need more search engines. If we did, we’d still have the likes of Excite – the first to introduce strings; handsome + nic + equity + boy

  • A new search engine makes sense when it does something unique that is of great value to the user. And it better be hard or not interesting for Google to copy this for either technical or business reasons.

    Cuil doesn’t (seem to) have anything unique that is of great value to the searcher. Maybe they have something that is of great value to Google, Yahoo or Microsoft. Who knows…

    @ Paul Walsh: Competing with Google is okay. But only if you are significantly better and there is nothing that Google can do about it. That is obviously a pretty difficult combination, as nobody has cracked that, yet. I agree that focusing on other areas is easier.

  • A new search engine makes sense when it does something unique that is of great value to the user. And it better be hard or not interesting for Google to copy this for either technical or business reasons.

    Cuil doesn’t (seem to) have anything unique that is of great value to the searcher. Maybe they have something that is of great value to Google, Yahoo or Microsoft. Who knows…

    @ Paul Walsh: Competing with Google is okay. But only if you are significantly better and there is nothing that Google can do about it. That is obviously a pretty difficult combination, as nobody has cracked that, yet. I agree that focusing on other areas is easier.

  • @Jens – do you really believe it’s possible to come up with something better than Google a_n_d have enough marketing power/budget to out-punch Google? OK, anything is possible. But, is it a wise business decision – I don’t think so.

  • @Jens – do you really believe it’s possible to come up with something better than Google a_n_d have enough marketing power/budget to out-punch Google? OK, anything is possible. But, is it a wise business decision – I don’t think so.

  • nic

    Thanks for the comments guys.

    Paul – I would be more than happy to have a go at Google in one of the areas I mentioned. For sure it would be a risky venture, but the upside is huge if you get it right. Plus there are a few companies out there that will see a lot of value in a company in this space that has made even a small amount of progress :).

  • nic

    Thanks for the comments guys.

    Paul – I would be more than happy to have a go at Google in one of the areas I mentioned. For sure it would be a risky venture, but the upside is huge if you get it right. Plus there are a few companies out there that will see a lot of value in a company in this space that has made even a small amount of progress :).

  • @ Paul Walsh

    I actually believe that at some point somebody WILL come up with something that is better than Google. Or can you imagine that in 100 years time search will be the same as it is now…? πŸ™‚

    Would I want to take on Google in their own game? Probably not right now, but who knows what technologies I will have access to in a few years time.

  • @ Paul Walsh

    I actually believe that at some point somebody WILL come up with something that is better than Google. Or can you imagine that in 100 years time search will be the same as it is now…? πŸ™‚

    Would I want to take on Google in their own game? Probably not right now, but who knows what technologies I will have access to in a few years time.

  • Danvers

    The auto-generated photos on a Cuil search are bizarre – I searched against my own name and some of the photos it threw up were bordering on offensive – and most of the results were very US (i.e. .com) focussed. Not tempted to convert.

  • The auto-generated photos on a Cuil search are bizarre – I searched against my own name and some of the photos it threw up were bordering on offensive – and most of the results were very US (i.e. .com) focussed. Not tempted to convert.

  • Heck, I thought I was being +ve about Cuil – you should see what others wrote πŸ˜‰

    I thought the “Cuil is gaelic for knowledge” bit was silliest, as it is so easy to check…..

  • Heck, I thought I was being +ve about Cuil – you should see what others wrote πŸ˜‰

    I thought the “Cuil is gaelic for knowledge” bit was silliest, as it is so easy to check…..

  • Natali

    New visual search engine already exists, it is only for kids))
    http://www.aga-kids.com/

  • Thanks for the mention!

    Yes, we have itemized hundreds of cool alternative search engines, but always with this caveat: they are “alternative” in the sense that they usually do 1 thing better than the major search engines.

    We have always maintained that because of that, there is no 1 Google killer, and so the individual alternatives have not made much of a dent in (US) market share.

    But doesn’t that leave an obvious option untried?

    (What if the fight was 100 to 1?)

    Charles Knight, editor
    AltSearchEngines.com

  • Nic

    There is also always room for an alternative way to solve the IR problem, which is what True Knowledge is doing.

    I think it is tough to pretend to be a Google-killer because there is such depth to their offering and it is dumb to attempt to attack them on exactly the same or similar enough value axes that they excel at.Sometimes sidestepping the competition is also a sensible move (to be played out…)
    aa

  • Nic

    There is also always room for an alternative way to solve the IR problem, which is what True Knowledge is doing.

    I think it is tough to pretend to be a Google-killer because there is such depth to their offering and it is dumb to attempt to attack them on exactly the same or similar enough value axes that they excel at.Sometimes sidestepping the competition is also a sensible move (to be played out…)
    aa

  • It does occur to me that Google’s fundamental idea (who links to you) can be fragile (I’ve seen too many SEO hacks that are successful!). Other variables – popularity, social search as you say, relevance and so on may eventually be more important, and less spam-able. My business is all about targeting and relevance, so I am biased, but it’s where lots user benefit can potentially be found.

    Google’s brand is a real barrier in main-stream search, so I’m intrigued that Cuil doesn’t seem to have done anything that special with their branding – or made the design very appealing.

  • It does occur to me that Google’s fundamental idea (who links to you) can be fragile (I’ve seen too many SEO hacks that are successful!). Other variables – popularity, social search as you say, relevance and so on may eventually be more important, and less spam-able. My business is all about targeting and relevance, so I am biased, but it’s where lots user benefit can potentially be found.

    Google’s brand is a real barrier in main-stream search, so I’m intrigued that Cuil doesn’t seem to have done anything that special with their branding – or made the design very appealing.

  • nic

    Hi Azeem – I agree, the trick is to pick off a corner of the market which Google underserves and then build out from there. Going head to head would be suicide.

    Alex – I agree that links have been heavily gamed – that is what attracts me to social search, as that is inherently game proof (at least as long as you keep good company…)

  • nic

    Hi Azeem – I agree, the trick is to pick off a corner of the market which Google underserves and then build out from there. Going head to head would be suicide.

    Alex – I agree that links have been heavily gamed – that is what attracts me to social search, as that is inherently game proof (at least as long as you keep good company…)

  • Pingback: There is space for innovation in search, but challenging Google will be tough | The Equity Kicker()

  • Hoover

    I’m sure this will sound childish and off-base, but to my mind the trick to beating Google is simple.

    Bear in mind that Google has invented the wheel. But the gap between inventing the wheel and building the car you drive is immense.

    When I search for something, I want only one page. Only a lunatic could want 15 million pages, so I’ve no idea why they boast about finding so many results.

    One page, and one page only. It’s that simple. The gap between Google’s product and a search engine that will offer me that one page is immense.

    Google is primitive. The way to beat it is to imagine the difference between inventing the wheel and building a car.

    Google’s competitors get nowhere because they say “Google may give you a blue wheel, but we offer a red one”.

    Nobody cares.

    I only want one page. Ever.

  • Hoover

    I’m sure this will sound childish and off-base, but to my mind the trick to beating Google is simple.

    Bear in mind that Google has invented the wheel. But the gap between inventing the wheel and building the car you drive is immense.

    When I search for something, I want only one page. Only a lunatic could want 15 million pages, so I’ve no idea why they boast about finding so many results.

    One page, and one page only. It’s that simple. The gap between Google’s product and a search engine that will offer me that one page is immense.

    Google is primitive. The way to beat it is to imagine the difference between inventing the wheel and building a car.

    Google’s competitors get nowhere because they say “Google may give you a blue wheel, but we offer a red one”.

    Nobody cares.

    I only want one page. Ever.

  • the Giant of Google has become invincible like the dinosaurs but remember, a combination of events finished them and I think it will have to take a combination of events to bring it down. in the mean time, small start-ups like quickbuffet.co.uk have to play by the rules set and moved by the giant as they please…what a shame..