When websites are launched that claim to "take on the might of Google", the initial noise from within the industry tends to be that of suppressed laughter. How could any startup hope to compete with an internet giant that returns results for several hundred millions of queries every day, and whose name is synonymous with the act of searching the web? Names such as Vivisimo, Mahalo and Snap.com have wafted in and out of our consciousness, but Google remains the automatic choice.
Cuil has received huge publicity on account of being the brainchild of Google alumni, but the service will stand or fall on how it performs. And the reaction has been mixed.
The presentation of the search results – three neat columns, with a full paragraph of text and a relevant picture – is refreshingly informative in comparison to Google. However, one user complained yesterday that searching for a particular junior high school returned a picture of a T-shirt with "Boobs" written on it. And those who dislike Google's privacy policies have applauded Cuil's commitment not to collect information about our searching habits.
But despite claims that their index is vastly bigger than Google's, some have complained that Cuil returns fewer relevant results. What better way of testing this than the well-worn pastime of searching for one's own name: Google returns 442,000 results for "rhodri", with me in the coveted No 1 spot. Cuil, however, returns 131,453, and I'm nowhere to be seen. Whether that makes Cuil a more discerning, more useful search engine is a matter of personal opinion.