Tag Archives | Search Engines

The New Ask.com: A Little Less Distinctive

I really liked the new version of Ask.com that arrived back in June of 2007–in part because it was so clearly not Google or a shameless Google wannabee. That version sported a three-pane interface that divvied results up into discrete sections for Web pages, news, images, video, and more. It was a strikingly different approach than Google’s Universal Search, which weaves results of all sorts into one list.

It would seem that consumers didn’t greet a radically different Ask.com as warmly as I did–Comscore data for August 2008 shows Ask with 4.5 percent of the search market, down from 5 percent in May 2007, right before that redesign. Fifteen months later, Ask has released another new version, and it’s dumped the divvied-results feature in favor of something that looks a lot more like Google, previous versions of Ask, and most every other search engine on the planet.

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Microsoft’s Whacko But Entertaining New Live Search Feature

It’s tough being Microsoft’s search engine. Life is great for Google; Yahoo, for all its problems, is very popular and has fantastic name recognition; Ask.com is a little guy (comparatively!) with some neat features. But Microsoft’s search offering’s woes begin with the fact that it’s hard to remember what it’s called. It began its life as part of MSN, morphed into Windows Live Search, and is now known as just Live Search. I think–the logo still has the Windows window graphic in it, and it lives at Live.com, not LiveSearch.com. (Quick, name me another major Web site whose name and URL aren’t the same.)

It’s hard, in fact, to think of any distinguishing characteristic that Live Search sports, with the exception of its odd and cheesy Cashback pay-to-search feature, which smacks of desperation as much as it does innovation.

Which is probably one reason why Live Search launched a very, very unusual home page redesign  today. The Live Search page used to be a spare, faux Google one. Today? It’s dominated by an attractive photo of some people in a canoe in Botswana:

The image has a bunch of hotspots; hover over one, and a bit of text pops up:

Each text snippet has a link to information on Live Search, such as Web results, videos, or images.

The idea is a trifle bizarre, but the basic goal as outlined at Microsoft’s Live Search blog is clear enough: They’d like to show folks who show up to search some of the diversity of the stuff that’s there: “We want the page to be a great place to start a search and also to intrigue and inform as well.”

My first impulse was to dislike all this. In theory, it should be a distraction that gets in the way you finding whatever you showed up at Live Search to look for–unless you arrived looking for information about Botswana. It’s probably annoying if you’re on a slow dial-up line (the blog post says that dial-uppers may notice the image and hotspots popping into place; on my fast cable line, they were zippy enough). The whole idea flies in the face of umpteen theories of good Web design.

But…I kind of like it. At the very least, you gotta give Microsoft credit for trying something so idiosyncratic and utterly un-Google-esque.

The big question is: How often will the images and hotspots change? (If I see the Botswana scene more than a couple more times, I hereby retract the nice things I just said.) The blog post says that the images will change “regularly.” Whether that means a few times a day, a few times a week, or a few times a month I can’t say. I do know that this feature would be a lot cooler if I could cycle through images and hotspots at will–but as far as I can tell, there’s no way to do that…


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Ten Reasons It’s So Damn Hard to Out-Google Google

Sifting through the blogosphere buzz on search engine Cuil today, just about everyone broaches the question of whether it might be a better search engine than Google–maybe even a more successful one someday. Judging from my experience with it so far, the real question is whether it’ll get marginally adequate, not whether it’ll topple the most dominant Web site the planet has ever known. But the chatter got me thinking: Why is it so [email protected]#@$% difficult to beat Google at its own game?

It’s not like nobody’s giving it all they’ve got. Cuil is merely the most recent startup to be positioned as a possible Googleslayer: Others have included Powerset (recently snapped up by Microsoft), Wisenut (which is no longer with us), and Wikia. And every time Yahoo or Microsoft or Ask launches some feature which will supposedly prove an irresistable lure to Google fans, Google’s share of all searches only trends upward.

In short, nobody’s really even managed to give Google a flesh wound. As with Freddy Krueger, tryng to kill it seems to do more harm than good. But why?

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Cuil is Back Up! Sort of!

Last night when I trudged off to bed, much-hyped new search engine Cuil had launched, was giving me odd-to-awful results–and then was replaced with a “We’ll Be Back” page saying that it was proving so popular that they had to take it offline to beef up their server capacity.

This morning, it’s back up and running. But despite claiming the planet’s largest index, it still has some sort of glitch that results in it sometimes failing to find any results at all:

In other Cuil news, my friend Dan Tynan is rightly wondering what Cuil’s founders were thinking when they gave their site that name. They say it’s an old Irish word for knowledge, and that it’s pronounced “cool.”

It seems inevitable that half of Cuil’s users will have no idea how to pronounce it. And if any of the the other half recommend it to a friend in person, that friend will have no idea how to spell it unless it’s spelled out–which is kind of a singular achievement for a word with only four letters in it.

It gets weirder: Until recently, Cuil was going to be called Cuill. They say that they changed the name to simplify the spelling…

To be named Cuill and change the spelling to Cuil based on that rational is sorta like living near the San Andreas Fault and deciding to move to safer territory–and buying a house that’s fifty yards to the south.

Safe prediction: It Cuil turns out to be good enough to gain traction, it will be called something else someday. Maybe soon…


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Is Cuil a Googleslayer? Nope, Not Yet–Not Hardly

A search engine called Cuil launched tonight. It touts itself as the world’s largest search engine, with more than 121 billion pages indexed–three times as many as Google, it says. Its “About Cuil” page sniffs at “superficial popularity metrics”–for which read Google’s PageRank–and says that it has a better approach to figuring out a page’s content and relevance. The site’s management includes multiple veterans of Google, plus Louis Monier, who was instrumental at AltaVista, the first important search engine. In short, both its claims and its staff set the bar high. And its claims, in particular, beg you to compare it with Google.

After spending a bit of time playing with Cuil, though, I’m more puzzled than impressed by the results. It would appear that the site is suffering some technical glitches tonight: In some cases, it’s told me it found zero results for a search, then has returned lots of them when I tried again. In fact, that’s happened often enough that I’d be cautious about judging any results that Cuil provides tonight:

I’ve done a bunch of other searches in hopes of finding an instance in which Cuil clearly beats Google. No luck so far. When I search for George Washington, the first result relates to George Washington University, not the Father of the Nation. The second result is Wikipedia’s entry on the great man, but the text excerpt is a snippet from the bibliography at the end of the article, so that’s not clear. The third result is a page about the George Washington Carver museum in Austin, Texas. I can’t imagine anyone arguing that that outdoes Google’s results. In fact, placing a result relating to George Washington Carver so high is evidence that Cuil’s understanding of my search was shaky; it’s unlikely that anyone looking for information on George Washinton Carver would fail to include the “Carver” in the search.

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