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.
Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.