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Cuil Needs To Fix Its Technology Before It Can Get Hot

Search engine expert Stephen Arnold believes the surge of interest in Cuil shows there's a huge pent-up demand for an alternative to Google.
Arnold points to some Cuil "bells and whistles" that can appeal to users -- features like insets for suggested searches, tabs for slicing results and "snazzier results displays." Arnold has never been a fan of Microsoft's and Yahoo's search technologies, which he notes have been cobbled together from different acquisitions while Google has had a focused approach to its search technology from its early days.

"Cuil hit Google with its larger index of 120 million Web pages processed to Google's 30 to 40 million pages," said Arnold. "Keep in mind that size doesn't matter, but it is a public relations hook." Google, which doesn't reveal its index numbers, won't concede the point to Cuil, but Cuil's capability to search so much with so little hardware -- the firm is said to use just 120 servers -- is impressive. Google has hundreds of thousands of servers in its massive data centers.

Arnold traces much of Cuil's advances -- and the advances of other search engines -- to simple hardware designs that were carried out years ago by Alta Vista, the pioneering search engine build around the Alpha 64-bit processor at Digital Equipment Corporation. Cuil's husband-and-wife founders team Patterson and her husband, Tom Costello, who researched and developed search technology at IBM, have taken advantage of those hardware advances. Arnold expects Costello to leverage his background in text analytics at IBM to improve Cuil, possibly with data mining elements.

The presence at Cuil of Louis Monier, ex-Alta Vista technologist, is important, Arnold believes because the Alpha experience with multicore processors helps Cuil take advantage of "cheap data centers" for search.

In Arnold's view, the current leader using multicore processors is France's rapidly-growing Exalead, also founded by a former Alta Vista technologist, Francois Bourdoncle. "Exalead and Cuil are newer (hardware) technology than Google's," said Arnold. "And that can give them an edge over Google. Cuil can use fewer machines and get more from Web sites."

Arnold said Cuil has some roll out bugs to squash. The Cuil system often pulls an image from one Web site and places that image in a description of another Web site. "Cuil also has to address bandwidth issues," Arnold said. "The surge in users Monday caused slowdowns and brown outs. These are normal glitches. Google had them. Cuil has them."

Although Arnold sees plenty of opportunities for search engines competing with Google, he believes Google's dominance is secure. "These smaller search engine companies can become hundreds of millions companies," he said. "Google can be a hundreds of billions company."