Well Cuil?

Could the mighty Google ever be overcome? A new search engine has been set up. It's called 'Cuil', h

Just a few days after Google claimed to have visited one trillion unique URL’s on the internet, a new startup launched onto the web with the lofty claim of already having indexed more pages than the big G.

Cuil (pronounced ‘cool’, of course) opened for use yesterday claiming to have some 120 billion pages indexed. Blimey.

Formed by ex-Googlers with $33m of venture funding, Cuil has been in development for the last three years and has attracted a huge amount of interest, coverage and upon launch - searches.. So many, infact, that a few hours after opening for business it buckled under the sustained weight of new-user’s excitable queries. Not to worry, it’s back up now…

Cuil claims to have a vastly improved search method than Google - most importantly from a business point of view, making it far easier to scale as it grows. Rather than ranking keywords as Google does, Cuil seeks to index meaning from pages and then give you the opportunity to refine your search as you go.

By understanding the context of your search through such semantic indexing, Cuil claims to distance itself from the the pretenders to the Google throne such as Powerset which uses an artificial intelligence approach to try and understand natural language.

The user interface itself is pleasing. It also displays the results in an easy to browse columnated format with the category options off to the side. It’s really is rather like reading a magazine of search results, with the suggested tabs and further options making the whole exercise feel rather more like a pleasant browse than a laser-focussed search.

Perhaps most notably absent from the site are the paid searches which run down the right-hand side of every Google search. It’s a refreshing change from the Google norm, but one which isn’t destined to last. Eventually Cuil will establish ad-sales as its principle revenue stream proving the Web 2.0 truism that if you can get the eyeballs, you can get the money.

Perhaps the most conspicuous way in which Cuil distances itself from Google, is in its attitude to privacy. Whilst Google has based an entire business model upon knowing the intimate surfing trends of its users, Cuil has taken a provocatively different approach.

Rather than just promising that it won’t do "evil" with the information it collects, Cuil’s approach is to not collect that information at all.

As landmark rulings such as the YouTube vs Viacom case have shown, Google is going to find it increasingly difficult to sustain both its power and stay a comfortable distance from Satan.

Cuil has a gargantuan task ahead of itself to try and catch Google (or even Yahoo), but it’s differentiated enough to be off to a good start.

Search for something on Cuil

Iain Simons writes, talks and tweets about videogames and technology. His new book, Play Britannia, is to be published in 2009. He is the director of the GameCity festival at Nottingham Trent University.
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He went in to report on crystal meth – before long, Luke Williams was hooked

The journalist moved into a house of meth addicts to investigate the drug. Within a month, he was using, too.

“I got a story, a very good story,” writes the young Australian journalist Luke Williams in the first chapter of his new book, The Ice Age. “Only it wasn’t the one I was expecting.” For three months in 2014, he lived in a house of crystal meth addicts in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, to investigate the drug. Within a month, he had forgotten why he was there. He had become addicted himself.

What follows is a dizzying retelling of his experiences, which veers between stories of Williams’s psychotic episodes and facts about his drug of choice. His descent into addiction happened in a nondescript house in Pakenham, a suburb to the south-east of Melbourne – “one of the most badly affected meth areas in Australia”.

Williams, now 36, grew up nearby and went to school there. He already knew two meth users in the area well enough to rent a room with them – an out-of-work labourer called Smithy and his live-in ex-girlfriend Beck. It was they who gave Williams his first shot of crystal meth, less than three weeks into his stay.

The crystal form of methamphetamine, also known as “ice”, is an addictive and powerful stimulant that causes euphoria. It heightens alertness, energy and arousal, with comedowns that can lead to aggression and violence.

It has gained cultural significance in recent years because of the US television drama Breaking Bad, in which an otherwise mild-mannered and law-abiding chemistry teacher “cooks” and sells crystal meth. Yet not much is known about the long-term effects of the drug, which in some countries – such as the Czech Republic – is a graver problem than heroin. In the UK, crystal meth activity is low and mainly linked to the gay chemsex party scene, where drugs are used to enhance group sex experiences.


Photo: Scribe

The drug is linked to severe psychosis, which Williams experienced first hand. Detailed in his book in a neat little list, like a morbid twist on a teenage diary, are Williams’s delusions, entitled: “My psychotic ideas”. Some are harrowing. His conviction that his parents are trying to poison him, for example, which results in him threatening to kill them “with my bare f***ing hands”. Others are amusing: he abandons his journalistic endeavour almost immediately in the belief that his calling is to become a famous rap star.

“I think that I could maybe do spoken word, but rapping? No, no,” he chuckles, when he speaks to me via Skype from Nepal, where he is researching another story. He says that he wanted to investigate crystal meth use partly because he was bored. He had left journalism to work at a law firm, and his life “lacked a bit of kick”.

Although he describes himself as “white, middle-class [and] educated”, he was fixated by the characters from his youth on the city’s outskirts. “I missed [them] in the middle-class world; it seemed so polite and clean . . . I looked forward to getting back there, living cheap, and when I saw the state some of my friends were in, I was very curious to know what was going on with them. Nobody was writing about the working class and the underclass.”

Williams quickly shifted from observer to addict. In alarming and frank detail, his book tells of marathon masturbation sessions (his record was 16 hours), physical altercations and a thick fog of paranoia. He would search his name online and become convinced that anything written by, or about, the name “Luke Williams” involved him.

He became so obsessed with the memory of an ex-boyfriend called Nathaniel that he believed that Smithy had turned his ex “into a transsexual, so that he and his mates could have their way with the new female Nathaniel”.

After three months, Williams was kicked out of the house by an aggressive Smithy, who thought the journalist was stealing his cannabis (he wasn’t). The nearby hospital gave him no help, so Williams ended up on the streets. After a lot of persuasion, he eventually returned to safety with his parents. He has been recovering ever since.

There is talk of a crystal meth “epidemic” in rural and suburban areas of Australia, which has among the highest usage of the drug in the world. The number of people using it there tripled from 2011 to 2016, and 7 per cent of Australians over the age of 14 have reported using amphetamines or methamphetamines (in the UK, it’s 1 per cent).

Although Luke Williams’s story is an insight into one of the world’s most dangerous substances, it’s also a lesson in doing your research. The first time Williams took crystal meth, it was injected by one of his housemates and he believed that it was no different from powdered meth – more commonly known as speed – which he had been using occasionally to give him the energy to write.

The group called everything “meth”, regardless of what they were taking. “Our lingo just didn’t differentiate,” Williams tells me. “People don’t really understand the difference. I got the opportunity to say in the public domain that [crystal meth] is different . . . It eats away at your inside.”

The Ice Age: A Journey Into Crystal-Meth Addiction by Luke Williams is published by Scribe.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era