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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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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