A couple of big attempts to rule the Internet have been brewing recently, both of which sound appealing but seem to have some glaring flaws.

First up is www.cuil.com. Cuil is pronounced “cool”, which immediately sets off alarm bells on the wankerometer. They seem to have generated a large amount of publicity before making sure their product actually works correctly, which may come back to bite them if they fall victim to negative word-of-mouth (of which there’s a tonne on the web already) before gaining scale.

The site does look pretty, and I quite like how the results are presented. I can even overlook the horrendous speed issues they had over the first two days, as I’m sure they’ll iron them out over time. But so far the claim that Cuil indexes 120 billion Web pages compared with Google’s estimated 40 billion seems to be stretching the truth, or at least their algorithm isn’t finding the results I’m after from the pages it does have indexed. I’ll play with it over the next few weeks but I don’t think Google’s search engine team would be particularly concerned about this as a potential competitor.

The second piece of technology is Knol, another horribly named website, this time produced by Google themselves. Are there really that few decent domain names left? Anyway, in a nutshell, the site is Wikipedia with more accountability – the authors of articles have the ability to manage update permissions as they desire, and can have more personal ownership of the information they generate. It sounds great in theory and does address a key criticism of Wikipedia, that the information it holds is not completely reliable. This criticism never really worked for me, encyclopedias were never acceptable as sources for research papers anyway so why that would be any different online I have no idea. So I guess with Knol it’s wait and see – I certainly won’t be furiously refreshing on the home page to see what gem has been posted most recently, but if results start popping up in searches then maybe I’ll pay more attention.

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