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Cuil, the new search engine from ex-Google geeks

Cuil, the new search engine from ex-Google geeks Anna Patterson joined Google in 2004 after she built and sold Recall, a search index that probed old Web sites for the Internet Archive.

Anna Patterson quit Google in 2006 to develop a more comprehensive and efficient way to search the Internet. Her husband, Tom Costello, and two other former Google engineers, Russell Power and Louis Monier, searched for better ways to scour the Internet supported by $33 million in venture capital.

The end result is the search engine Cuil, pronounced cool. and plans to begin processing requests for the first time from July 28 onwards.

Cuil’s search index spans 120 billion Web pages, which is at least three times the size of Google’s index, although there is no way to know for certain. Google stopped publicly quantifying its index’s breadth nearly three years ago when the catalog spanned 8.2 billion Web pages.

Cuil will not divulge the formula it has developed to cover a wider swath of the Web with far fewer computers than Google.

After getting inquiries about Cuil, Google asserted on its blog Friday that it regularly scans through 1 trillion unique Web links. But Google said it doesn’t index them all because they either point to similar content or would diminish the quality of its search results in some other way. The posting didn’t quantify the size of Google’s index.

A search index’s scope is important because information, pictures and content cannot be found unless they’re stored in a database. But Cuil believes it will outshine Google in several other ways, including its method for identifying and displaying pertinent results.

Cuil does not mimic Google’s method of ranking the quantity and quality of links to Web sites, but Cuil’s technology drills into the actual content of a page. And Cuil’s results will be presented in a more magazine-like format instead of just a vertical stack of Web links. Cuil’s results are displayed with more photos spread horizontally across the page and include sidebars that can be clicked on to learn more about topics related to the original search request.

Finally, Cuil is hoping to attract traffic by promising not to retain information about its users’ search histories or surfing patterns; something that Google does, much to the consternation of privacy watchdogs.

Cuil got off to a grand start Monday as its computers were overwhelmed by curious Web surfers. As of late Monday afternoon, even simple search requests were still being greeted with this message: “No results because of high load.”

Cuil is just the latest in a long line of Google challengers. The list includes swaggering startups like Teoma (whose technology became the backbone of Ask.com), Vivisimo, Snap, Mahalo and, most recently, Powerset, which was acquired by Microsoft Corp. this month.

Even after investing hundreds of millions of dollars on search, both Microsoft and Yahoo Inc. have been losing ground to Google. Through May, Google held a 62 percent share of the U.S. search market followed by Yahoo at 21 percent and Microsoft at 8.5 percent, according to comScore Inc.

Google has become so synonymous with Internet search that it may no longer matter how good Cuil or any other challenger is, said Gartner Inc. analyst Allen Weiner.

However, this will be the first time that Google has to battle a general-purpose search engine created by its own alumni. It probably won’t be the last time, given that Google now has nearly 20,000 employees.

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