Newcomer lines up to take on Google

A Silicon Valley start-up has launched what it claims is the internet's biggest search engine, with an index three times larger than Google's.

Cuil, pronounced "cool", from the Gaelic word meaning "knowledge", says it has also developed technology that makes the index require a fraction of the storage and processing power used by Google's vast server farms.

The company founders include a husband-and-wife team, Tom Costello and Anna Patterson, as chief executive and president.

Ms Patterson was the architect of Google's large search index called TeraGoogle and led a web page-ranking team there. Mr Costello helped build WebFountain, a new kind of search engine, for IBM. Russell Power, a third founder, led the development of TeraGoogle's servers.

Cuil, which was named Cuill until Monday, says it has indexed 120bn web pages, three times more than Google. It features a different magazine-style layout and allows deeper searches by concept or category.

It also ranks pages by their content rather than their popularity, meaning greater privacy for users as no personal data are collected and stored.

Analysts said Cuil's larger index size did not make it a major threat to Google as users' search habits were already entrenched.

"Cuil is an interesting play, but I think they are still going to have a real challenge in trying to overcome the inertia people have in switching search engines," said Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of the Search Engine Land blog.

Nevertheless, Google made an announcement on Friday suggesting Cuil was on its radar screen. It said its systems had hit a new content milestone of recording 1,000bn links to web pages.

"There's no reason they would have made a post like that if it weren't for Cuil. That's the reason they put it out," said Mr Sullivan.

Mr Costello said Cuil's technology allows it to query indices on between one and three machines, which provide relevant results, rather than the 10,000 servers utilised by Google per query.

It would have the capacity to serve 5 per cent of all search traffic at launch, but could easily scale to handle any demand, he added. "In terms of efficiency, it's a different architecture. The big real win is that you can run data centres with hundreds of machines rather than with 50,000."

Cuil may find it easier to sell its technology to others than to take market share from Google. According to the comScore research company, it had 61.5 per cent of the 11.5bn search queries posed by US users in June to the top-five engines powered by Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Ask and AOL.

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