Monday, July 28, 2008

Cuil - Hard to Pronounce and Hard to Use

While browsing through Google News, I saw this story:

With hours of being launched Monday, Cuil - a new search engine created by former top Google engineers - was already being touted in the blogosphere as the next Google killer. But unless Cuil (pronounced ‘cool’) can develop an ad platform to rival Google’s, Cuil will have a difficult time challenging the search giant.

So I immediately went to and tried a search. Naturally, I searched for the word "libertarian." Aside from the content of the results (which was similar but not identical to Google's results), I don't really like the format in which they're displayed. I guess having a summary below the site name is nice, but Google's approximately sentence-long summary is almost always sufficient for me. Plus nowadays I'm almost always connected via a high speed connection, so the cost of experimenting by clicking on many different search results is fairly low, which effectively devalues a link preview.

Another annoying thing is that even though the results are presented in multiple columns (three by default but you can change it to two), you still have to scroll vertically. Not like scrolling is a problem, but why bother with the multiple columns if you still have to scroll? With the single column of results that Google yields, it's pretty clear that more results can be found by scrolling vertically. But when the results are stretched across the page in three columns, I made the assumption that this negated the need for scrolling. But then I tried to scroll anyway (why not?), and found that scrolling down might give you one more row of results. Why even bother with the one extra row?

Finally, for searches for relatively common words like "libertarian," Cuil displays a box in the upper right corner of the page called "Explore by Category." This seems like Cuil's most obvious attempt at differentiating themselves from Google, and I think it has some promise. On the plus side, its behavior is very quick; to see what it recommends in a given category you just roll over the category name and a list of sub-topics is shown almost instantly. The quick response is nice; anything slower would kill its usefulness. But even with the quick response, I wonder how useful the functionality really is...usually when I search for something, I'm looking for something specific. It's rare that I'm just searching on some topic in a general quest to learn more about that topic by exploring one of the recommended sub-topics. But maybe that's just me...

In sum, I guess it's nice to have another options, but I'm not yet convinced of Cuil's utility. If I were them, I'd do multiple rounds of iterative usability testing to make sure they aren't introducing any serious usability (including satisfaction) issues by having both a multi-column display and using just enough vertical space to require users to scroll vertically to view just one more row of results.

One more thing: spelling "cool" like "cuil" reminds me of this classic site. "Pointed shorts!...Kewl!"

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