SAN FRANCISCO: In her two years at Google, Anna Patterson helped design and build some of the pillars of the company’s search engine, including its large index of Web pages and some of the formulas it uses for ranking search results.
Now, along with her husband, Tom Costello, and a few other Google alumni, she is trying to upstage her former employer.
On Monday, their company, Cuil, is unveiling a search engine that they promise will be more comprehensive than Google’s and that they hope will give its users more relevant results.
“I think it will be better,” Costello said in an interview. “But there is no question that the public has to decide.”
Cuil, pronounced “cool,” is only the latest in a long string of start-up companies that have been founded and financed with the goal of competing with Google, as well as Yahoo and Microsoft. (In June, Google accounted for 61.5 percent of search queries in the United States, while Yahoo held 20.9 percent and Microsoft had 9.2 percent, according to comScore.) Some of the most prominent include Powerset, which Microsoft recently bought, and Wikia, which was founded by Jimmy Wales, one of the creators of Wikipedia. So far, none have managed to make a dent in the search market.
But some analysts say Cuil has potential, in part because of the pedigree of its founders.
“This is the most promising thing I’ve seen in a while,” said Danny Sullivan, who has followed the online search business for more than a decade and is the editor of Search Engine Land. “Whether they are going to threaten Microsoft, much less Google, that’s another story.”
Costello, a former researcher at Stanford, said that with 120 billion Web pages, Cuil’s search index is larger than any other. The company uses a form of data mining to group Web pages by content, which makes the search engine more efficient, he said. Instead of showing results as short snippets of text and images with links, it displays longer entries and uses more pictures. It also provides tools to help users further refine their queries.
Google would not comment on Cuil and would not disclose the size of its own index. But in an e-mail statement, Google said that it maintained “the largest collection of documents searchable on the Web” and welcomed competition.
Sullivan said he was unimpressed by Cuil’s claim that its index includes more Web pages, noting that that could mean users are “overwhelmed by a whole bunch of junk.” But he said that Cuil’s new approach to ranking pages and presenting results could prove to be a hit with some users.
“If it turns out that they have good relevancy, I could see that the word of mouth” would bring Cuil some popularity, he said.
Patterson left Google in 2006 to found Cuil. The new company has other prominent ex-Google employees, including Russell Power, who worked with Patterson on the large Google index, and Louis Monier, a former chief technology officer at AltaVista, a pioneering search engine. Cuil, which has about 30 employees and is in Menlo Park, California, has raised $33 million from venture investors.
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