Posted by: Paraic | August 1, 2008

Search is not a solved problem

Search is not a solved problem!  You’ll hear that from the Google folks too, say from Eric Schmidt in his comments at the Google analyst day.

I bring this up becuase I’ve continued to follow the initial response to the launch of Cuil, most of it negative.  Much of it though seems to miss the point.  Yeah, I too initially had a thing about the name, but I got over that – it’s not going to matter.  Neither is it going to matter longer-term how well they did on their first day, when they admittedly had some problems.  They’ve posted a founder’s note on their site and I’ve also been following the robust defense being offered on Sarah Carey’s blog.  Cuil is offereing something different; the size of their index, suggestions by category, matching based on content not popularity, and a magazine-style results layout.  Now some of those things I’m describing based directly on their own claimes; I don’t know yet what those mean for me as a searcher – am I going to have a better experience overall?  Only time will tell – well at least more than 1 day.

Cuil is now the third new/different search engine I’ve come across this year.  PowerSet definitely had something new/different to offer (I say had because they’re now part of Microsoft).  I’m really enjoying using SearchMe and I’ve now made it my default engine in Firefox.  They definitely have something new/different to offer.

Yes, it’s certainly a very difficult challenge to gain any traction with search with such dominent players in the market (particularly with such a strong market leader in Google, who is also constantly innovating).  And that’s just with respect to gaining uers, saying nothing of the challenge of then monetizing the search traffic.

But these smaller engines definitely have something new/different to offer that is worth trying.  Could Google experiment with a completely different style of results presentation like SearchMe (visual) or Cuil (magazine-style) given such a huge base of users for whom the ranked list of 10 results per page is ingrained in their use of search?

Of course new/different is no good if it’s not better in some way.  I am finding in fact that I’m often having a better experience with SearchMe.  The visual presentation of results pages, with query terms highlighted, is proving a very efficient way to scour through results in certain cases.  I’m still trying to get a handle on how often I find SearchMe better (I’ll often run the same search on Google, and now also on Cuil to test) versus those times when I have to give up on SearchMe and go back to Google.  I’ll come back to this with more detail as I get a better grasp of this.

But in the meantime, these little engines are worth a try, and not just once, but are worth coming back to.  “Search is not a solved problem”, after all.



  1. Wow, really is useful. Their snippet as page view plus more text is awesome.
    But even for other searches, I love the speed of the scrolling page displays, which add a lot of utility to snippets even in the few trivial searches I tried.

    Cuil, by focusing on recall, seems less useful, even if they get the bugs ironed out. Despite the fact that we’re focusing on recall for genomics information extraction tasks, I’ve never felt recall was an issue for most web searches. I could use more approximate and contextual matching, perhaps, but the index size has never seemed an issue.

    I miss Excite, which used to run TF/IDF rather than social-network-based algorithms. But then again, if it were successful, we wouldn’t have Lucene.

    PowerSet was focusing on some kind of precision and question answering, which I also felt was of questionable value compared to using Google. Plus, they never showed (at least to the public) that their tech scaled either in complexity (different page types, multiple pages for entities) and size (number of web pages).

  2. […] is Useful I’m repeating pretty much verbatim a comment I left on Páraic Sheridan’s blog, Returned Emigrant in a response to his post Search is not a solved problem. […]

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