Concept mapping: Cuil’s recently added features include a “timeline” and “mapline.”
With $33 million in venture backing, Cuil was founded by Stanford computer scientist Tom Costello and a pair of Google alumni: Anna Patterson and Russell Power. Its core claim is that it searches more pages on the Web than anyone else–three times as many as Google. However, this hasn’t yet translated into comparable popularity.
To further distinguish itself, Cuil has recently begun offering other kinds of special categories of search returns along with the main ones. In March it introduced a “timeline”–a box on the right side of the page with search returns expressed by relevant date. A search for “Great Depression,” for example, brings up a box listing events of the late 1920s and 1930s–from various acts of Congress to the rise of Nazism–culled from pages that include dates. (Google has a prototype of a timeline search tool that can be customized; it produces temporally arranged links to news stories, from Wikipedia content or other sources.)
In June, Cuil also launched a “mapline”–search returns arranged on a map, and not just for obviously geographical searches like “pizzerias in Palo Alto.” For example, the “Great Depression” search produces pins on a world map; mousing over these pins (most of which are in North America) yields links to sites that, for example, describe Depression-era crop failures in Saskatchewan and 1930s public-works projects in Oregon.
But the question remains whether any of this will help resuscitate Cuil. According to the analytical firm Compete, shortly after its launch on July 28, 2008, Cuil had 2 million visitors–a figure that cratered to 130,000 by February and has stayed flat since then. However, Ozveren strongly disputes those numbers. She says Cuil’s traffic has been doubling every six weeks since February, though she declined to provide alternative numbers.
Explaining the disparity, Ozveren says that Compete does not accurately track “hover-over” activity–previewing a result without clicking through. Hover-over activity represents a growing share of Cuil’s traffic, she says. Also, when Cuil launched, it was the only search engine that didn’t track and store the Internet protocol addresses of its users’ computers. Ozveren argues that Cuil users may therefore be more privacy-minded than most, and therefore less likely to install Compete’s website-tracking toolbar.
Still, the numbers are far worse than the hype suggested was possible just one year ago. The foray into social search is one way Cuil is trying to recover.