A new search engine appears: will you use it?

Tonight a new search engine showed up. Techcrunch has the details. So do tons of other blogs. Search engine guru Danny Sullivan has a great post about the new engine, Cuil, (pronounced “cool”). I wasn’t pre-briefed or anything. Like I said last week I’m trying to get out of the PR game and try to get back to what made me like blogging: sharing information with other users.

So, has anyone figured out a good way to quickly test search engines? I haven’t. Everyone has their own search terms that they use to judge whether or not an engine is interesting.

I remember when I was trying to convince my dad to move from Alta Vista to Google he had a bunch of very specific scientific searches he’d do. He used to love showing me that Alta Vista had more and better results. I kept at it. After about two years he switched to Google too.

Today isn’t like back in the Alta Vista days. Back then there was porn and spam that was showing up in my result sets. Google doesn’t have those problems and usually works for almost anything I search for. When it doesn’t work, I try some of the other engines, or just refactor my search and it almost always works. I can’t remember the last time I was totally stymied by Google.

But, what’s great about the blogosphere is that everyone gets to participate. Look at TechCrunch’s early searches and the comments that are coming in. I, too, think that Cuil is going to face an uphill battle based on my early searches.

On the other hand, let’s give Cuil the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say it actually was a better search engine. I still doubt many people would switch. Why?

Distribution.

Huh?

Well, my Firefox browser has Google built into it. Most people have no idea how to switch it. Most people, on our tests, really don’t understand much of anything except that that little box probably now goes to Google. The Google.

It’s so pervasive of an expectation at this point that many people type URLs into that box. Or, type the word “Yahoo” into that box so they can get to their email and other Yahoo services.

Is Cuil going to be able to get into this game?

No way, no how.

On mobile phones it’s worse. My iPhone has Google built in. No way that Cuil is going to be able to rip out Google and replace that with its own engine.

So, why is Cuil here?

I think it’s a play for Microsoft money. Microsoft needs to get back into the search game, so will continue buying companies to try to get back into the search game. Yahoo, if run by management that’s rational, will probably start doing the same thing.

Look at Powerset. They cashed out early to Microsoft. Cuil probably will do the same thing if it brings enough to the table.

Just for fun, though, and to get back to being a user, let’s try one search:

Barack Obama’s technology policy

I put that into all the search engines without any quotes, just to see which one does the best job. Here’s the result set:

Cuil (gave an error, couldn’t find any results)
Google. (best of the three)
Yahoo. (close to Google, but not quite there)
Microsoft. (by far the worst of the big three, didn’t bring the technology policy up as the first result).

Anyway, I did a bunch of other searches on Cuil and they are trying to be different, that’s for sure, but I didn’t see enough of a need to try it out further.

How about you?

The blog editing system in action

At last week’s Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference I was on a blogger panel where some members of the audience brought up ye olde “bloggers aren’t as good as ‘real journalists’ because bloggers don’t get it right” argument. The audience cheered when the host made the point that magazine journalists go slower to “get it right.” I played the part of the blogger and took the point on the chin, despite also now writing for a magazine and having to work with the old-school editing system of fact-checkers and pre-publication editing.

I tried to make the point that blogs self correct very quickly (usually within hours) because if I get it wrong the people who actually know the truth will jump on me fast and furiously and that blogs arrive at the truth faster BECAUSE of the participation of everyone involved.

This is something that RARELY happens in the paper press. Or, if it does, thanks to letters to the editors, it happens very slowly, so readers never really see that feedback until weeks or months later. And even when it does happen you only see a sample of the feedback, never the whole feedback. In every case gatekeepers are in charge of what the reader sees (try to get something published in a newspaper sometime, even if you have a legitimate case it’s pretty difficult).

Dave Winer told me often that he loves blogging because it lets him tell his story. His complete, unedited, unchanged, unfiltered story. He’d tell me example after example of getting interviewed by journalists who didn’t understand the technology he was building, so they’d misrepresent it due to either misunderstanding what he was saying, or, even worse, some sort of bias toward him or his technology. Many other people have told me the same thing.

Anyway, at the Fortune thing I tried to get across that I liked having my readers as fact checkers a lot more than the magazine style of working to get it right before publishing. Every column I publish in Fast Company magazine gets edited and fact checked by someone else. That’s cool and usually keeps me from looking like an idiot in print. But I much prefer the blog because I think the comments are actually part of the article.

No better way to demonstrate that as with yesterday’s post about Silicon Valley’s VC Disease.

David Hornik, the VC I was talking about, gave a very long reply to my post yesterday. He refuted some things, clarified other things, and had fun with other things. Among the points that Hornik made is that August Capital was one of the few original investors in Seagate. I should have looked that up before publishing. A fact-checker at the magazine probably would have caught it and kept me from looking stupid. But, this let David get a great point across: that he was positioned unfairly by me and let him clarify his remarks on Friday. In the old world a journalist would have been able to throw David under the bus and David wouldn’t have been able to do much about it except write a letter to the editor.

In the old world of publishing you never would have seen his reply and if, for some reason, it would have run, it would have been a month later separate from the article, not combined with the article within a few hours of its publishing, like Hornik’s comment was here.

Journalists who fight this system (and readers who don’t check out the comments) are missing the point. This is a participatory media, not a one-way one, and, while it has a different editing system (the editing is done post publishing, not pre publishing) it’s pretty clear to me that this system arrives at the truth a lot faster than anything on paper does.

But, you gotta read and participate in those comments! Lots of old-schoolers don’t like that dirty work.

Oh, and David also joined in over on the FriendFeed thread.

Thank you David for providing evidence that blogs can make everyone, including the author, smarter.