Monday, July 28, 2008

Searching Every Which A-way

However many years ago it was, I recall hearing about a new search engine called Google, which threatened to be way better than Yahoo! and Netscape combined, hard to imagine though that was. (Actually, the context in which I first heard about Google was how great it was for finding song lyrics...which it was and is.) But I tested it out, one Saturday morning ten or so years ago, by of course typing in my name. Pretty common, I'm afraid, so not terribly illuminating. So I tried my grandfather's name (my father and I shared a name, so there wouldn't have been much point searching for him), which again was a little too commonplace to be of use. So I tried his grandfather, on the theory that there can't be too many Phineas Bates Reynoldses running around. And to my amazement, up came a number of decent hits. Which is more than I could say for Yahoo! and Netscape.

Those hits led to some good internet contacts that helped me immeasurably when it came to filling in some gaps in the family tree. And Google became my search engine of choice, a tool so helpful that it remains today the home page on my browser of choice, Firefox.

So it was with interest this morning that I heard on NPR's Morning Edition about Cuil, the new search site founded by former Google employees, which went live this morning. Cuil supposedly indexes more of the web than other search engines ("Search 121,617,892,992 web pages"), which may very well be so...but when I had a chance to check it out, repeating the searches indicated above, I came away pretty underwhelmed. If nothing else, I was surprised that the family history pages that I have online--which include, of course, me, my grandfather, and his grandfather--didn't appear among the hits. Indeed, I and my grandfather seem barely to exist in Cuil, and old Phinny shows up in a couple of old genealogical pages that were among those that Google took me to almost a decade ago.

Is that a fair test? Well, you tell me. For my dime, I like a search engine that will help me find the obscure, and in that regard Google has always been the go-to guy.

Here's another couple of oddities:

First, if I put "Phineas Bates Reynolds" in quotation marks--the standard, I think, for searching for an exact term--Cuil shows me one hit but tells me there are 1,066 results for "phineas bates reynolds". I wouldn't mind knowing how to access those results. If Cuil provides a way, I have yet to find it. (The line that tells me 1,066 results for "phineas bates reynolds" is not clickable, though it feels like it should be.)

If I search Phineas Bates Reynolds without the punctuation marks, I of course get more results displayed...but most of them are wrong. And I can't seem to access the 17,056 results its says it found.

Second--and this is inexplicable--if I turn off Cuil's "safe search mode," the single result it previously displayed disappears, as do the alleged 1,066 results it claims to have found but isn't showing...and now it tells me that it's finding nothing! Very strange, no? I assure you, there is nothing pornographic or objectionable in "Whiteside Co IL Township Histories," so I'm at a loss to explain Cuil's apparent issues with it...and the thousand other results it claimed to have once had.

It is also disconcerting to click on "About Cuil" at the bottom of the page and be rewarded with this:

Well, it's all very new and all. I suppose, in fairness, I should pop back in after Cuil has been up and running a week or so and see if these apparent oddities have been addressed. For now, however, I think I'll stick with Google...even though it must be said that Cuil is much prettier.

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