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There used to be this huge debate over which search engine indexed the most pages. I kind of thought everyone had given up on that and conceded that Google is the biggest and besides relevance of results is much more important than the size of the search index. But the past couple days the web is abuzz with talk about the newest entrant into the search game, Cuil (pronounced: cool). There have been rumblings about this new search engine for a while, but now that it’s live, the media has gone berserk over the potential Google-slayer. Every article I read talks about how Cuil indexes 120 Billion pages–an estimated 3 times more than Google. Of course, Google was quick to explain on the Google Blog that they’re still the biggest and baddest search kid on the block and actually know about 1 TRILLION pages, but they’re too smart and too good to index all of them. Don’t worry, though, they index all the important stuff, so there’s no need to search anywhere but Google to find what you need. Obviously it hurts Google’s feelings if some new search engine can come in and beat them at their own game, so they’ve got to stick up for themselves, but I tend to believe Google that they really do index a lot more than the 40 Billion pages that Cuil estimates.

In terms of the search engine itself, Cuil takes a new approach to displaying the search results and although the pictures are kind of random and don’t always match up with the associated site, I like having pictures long with the description, and I really like the alternate category searches that they offer up for each search result. In terms of relevancy, I did a few quick searches and the results seem pretty good, but nothing I couldn’t find on the first page of Google. And where in the world are they pulling those pictures alongside the results? Some of those have nothing to do with the associated result! Danny Sullivan wrote a post about his quick test of Cuil’s relevancy (he’s not impressed). Others were similarly underwhelmed by the quality of Cuil at launch: Hallam, Huffington Post, PC Mag, TechCrunch, Techie Buzz, Industry Standard, ReadWriteWeb, Mashable, Twitter

It doesn’t matter if you index 40 Billion pages, 120 Billion pages or a Trillion, a good search engine will index enough of the right pages, and whether or not I can find what I’m looking for when I perform a search. I know the size thing it’s just a PR gimmick (and working well for them), but it’s a lot easier to say “our index is bigger” than “our index is better” because quality is so subjective. The hype about size (regardless of whether it’s true or not) will fade fast, so if Cuil wants any chance of stealing a piece of the search pie, they will need to prove they deserve it by delivering quality, relevant results. In fact, even that might not be enough, because Google already does that. They’ve got to give us something more or better than what we can get from Google. If they can’t do that, Cuil will just fade into the sea of wannabe search engines that never had what it took to knock off the king of search.