Cuil Meets Wolfram Alpha – Gives Birth To Google On Crack

bingLately every time I turn around, another new search engine comes out that’s supposed to be innovative and better than Google in some way or another. The latest announcement came from Google themselves, where they let the world know about the new Google Squared. Why Google would do this I can only guess is because their engineers have had a lot of free time on their hands.

Why this is even the subject of an article is because I am a search marketing professional. It’s my responsibility to evaluate every new search engine on behalf of my small and mid-size business clients. And They’re continually questioning me about these new resources that they’re hearing such great things about in the mainstream media…

I’m just amazed at how much money must be spent on all these new search initiatives, in the middle of such a flourishing economy (ah sarcasm is such a pressure reliever). I mean, heck – sure I get it that there’s big bucks in online marketing these days. I am, after all, a consultant in this industry.

So fine – you say you want to get some of that market share. And you are sure your proprietary method is going to be able to blow the socks off of users. Okay. Fine. Go for it.

But please – before you roll out your shiny new search vehicle, don’t you think it would be wise to get some real world outside opinions on the quality of it before you announce it to the world? Because you know this isn’t 1999, and thus you can’t just roll out a bag of hot air and expect to be well funded or to be able to go public and rake in billions based on a lie or a snow-job right?


Okay – so we all remember when Cuill came out right? They claim to be “The world’s biggest search engine“. Some of their top management are former Googlers even. Well, right from the beginning, the results many of us found were truly sad, indeed. Sites that had nothing to do with the phrases entered. Images that were obviously not related to the phrase. And the list of problems went on and on…

Well, here we are, a year later, and I figured, I’d see how their site has improved. Or not.

Now, if you recall from reading my last article on multi-site SEO and controlling back links, that one of my favorite topics is mesothelioma right? Specifically mesothelioma attorneys. If you hadn’t read that, it’s simple – one of my biggest clients is a law firm that specializes in the field.

So of course, the first thing I do when I go to a new search engine is to see how well my clients do in the results pages there.


And thus I did a search tonight at Cuil for the phrase mesothelioma attorney. The good news is that some actual law firms that appear from their page titles and descriptions, actually do show up in the Cuil results. That’s nice. The engineers at Cuil must have been working til their fingertips bled this past year. Because it’s gotten better than it used to be.

Except upon closer examination, I noticed that the third entry down is for a firm by the name Clapper, Patti, Schweizer & Mason. Didn’t take me a whole lot to figure that one out, given how it says so in the title AND description. (Chalk one up for my superior powers of observation).

Clapper, Patti, Schweizer & Mason

But notice how the image to the right of that entry says “Simon, Eddin, & Greenstone”? WTF? And sure enough, that image links to the Clapper Patti site. And if you scroll down a bit you’ll see what appears to be a list of spelling variations on the phrase. Repeated no less than SIXTEEN times. And the link that’s associated with – I clicked on it.


Oops too late- it redirects to

How nice.

I could go on and on about the high quality results we now get thanks to the tireless sacrifices of the engineers over there. But that’s enough to illustrate my point I hope, about the quality of THAT endeavor.


Fast Forward to spring 2009, and the annoncement of yet another miracle generator, WolframAlpha. This one is billed as a “computational knowledge engine™”. THEIR claim to fame is:

“The first step in an ambitious, long-term project to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable by anyone. Enter your question or calculation, and Wolfram|Alpha uses its built-in algorithms and a growing collection of data to compute the answer.”

WTF does THAT mean?

Off to the right of the search form there’s some example searches you might want to perform. You can enter a date, a town name, two stock ticker symbols, formulas… Well, I entered my home town of Huntington, NY, a fairly robust town on Long Island where I grew up.

According to Wolfram Alpha (is this frakkin one or two words? They give mixed signals so I am clueless here folks), Huntington has a population of 198,621 people. Okay. So where did that number come from? Clicking on that figure just gives me a little AJAXY pop-up window that is completely worthless, thank you very much, except if I want to copy the text. Which I could have done without their help if they hadn’t made it a clickable link of an on the fly image display. So much for innovation…

Alan Bleiweiss
Alan Bleiweiss is a Forensic SEO audit consultant with audit client sites consisting of upwards of 50 million pages and tens of millions of visitors a month. A noted industry speaker, author and blogger, his posts are quite often as much controversial as they are thought provoking.
Alan Bleiweiss

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29 thoughts on “Cuil Meets Wolfram Alpha – Gives Birth To Google On Crack

  1. Todd,

    I admit it. Except Ann refused to put any AdSense ads on the sidebar or inline in the text.

    Rats! Foiled again!

  2. Hilarious and perceptive post. . I think when looking at new claims regarding the “next big thing” in search the 20th century urban philosopher Flavor Flav said it best… “Don’t believe the hype”.

  3. I can seriously do without the Swearing and references to Crack..
    I read SEJ because of the quality of the information and the professional’s that write for it.

  4. John,

    I appreciate your comment. My personal “voice” does lean on the side of intensity at times and the tone of some of my articles isn’t for everyone. If the message of this particular post is lost to you because of that, I need to take that into consideration moving forward.


    Given how inaccurate their statistic was on town population, and how they neither disclose their sourcing nor mention official town and census data, it wasn’t so much about being the authority on temperatures and humidity level, as it was that we need to understand where W/A is coming up with it’s data if we are going to determine whether the site is to be believed in general.

  5. While I agree that Google Squared seems to be epic fail so far (even if some may argue it’s still part of Google Labs), there must be a better way to put forth that argument than by giving examples of searches that Google Squared was clearly not meant for.

    G^2 seeks to tabulate information comparing different items or things within a category or across closely related categories, as is evident by Google’s prompt with an example search for planets (the category) and 4 examples of planets (that you got when you tried to “square” your name). So while a query that seeks to square and compare 5 different names would be a valid one that G^2 can try to make sense of (and fail), a query with just one item is not something that one would expect G^2 to “square”. So the Jimmy Carter example fails.

    Try this search if you want to square Carter with someone instead:,+george+bush,+bill+clinton&items=presidents&items=jimmy+carter&items=george+bush&items=bill+clinton&items=vladimir+putin

  6. Uday

    You bring up a good point. Where, when you first go to Google Squared, does it explain this clearly enough for the vast majority of people who use the web? It doesn’t.

    From the first entry in their help page, it states:

    “Google Squared is a search tool that helps you quickly build a collection of facts from the Web for any topic you specify. ”

    Well excuse me Google for not being scientifically minded enough to fully grasp what this means, but my topic IS Jimmy Carter.

    Is he alive? What is his familial history? His political career history? What are his most notable accomplishments?

    I even went so far as to “start with an empty square” as the site suggests, and got more useless data given the above parameters.

    So until they provide a better and obvious “here’s what this does and what it doesn’t do” message, I say it’s a fail unless you’re a completely analytical thinker and have the patience to hack away til you get what you are looking for.

    Just sayin.

  7. Amusing article Alan, thanks. I for one am giving Google Squared a miss: too much required to get it going. A primary requirement of a search engine must be simplicity.

  8. How does the saying go… if it’s not broken, don’t fix it? The Internet giants became giants because of their simplicity in usability. Whether it be a search engine, social network, or web site, people demand it be easy to use. Because there are so many options on the Internet to retrieve both general and specific information, it will take less than a minute of incomprehension to navigate away from a confusing page. Perhaps for the power search users G^2 and W | A will be great additions to their toolbox, but for us everyday users they will simply not be part of our everyday use. Like you said, it’s not 1999 and we’re not going to be helping them rake in the cash.

  9. Follow-on note:

    Some people have suggested i’m being too critical of Google Squared, that it’s an experiment and still a work in progress.

    The theory is that Google has a culture of releasing products before their time and that’s supposedly a good thing.

    Well personally I feel this is an excuse for the fact that they don’t invest real time in research and testing in a controlled environment. And that results in confusion, frustration and annoyance among people who end up at those places. Why should they get away with that? Because their the big bully on the block?


  10. The funny thing is that if you click the first link off the google squared homepage below their search box, you got garbage results. And that’s one they’re proud of! The results have since changed, but apparently “42 inches” was the duration of one ride.

  11. Alan, when evaluating Google Squared: did you click on the “help” link, at the top right corner of the screen?

    If you did, surely you found something like:

    >> Google Squared is a search tool that helps you quickly build a collection of facts from the Web for any topic you specify.

    Key word: tool. Or:

    >> all you have to do is type [ roller coasters ] into the search box

    Key concept: “roller coasters” is an abstraction.

    At any rate: I believe Squared is an interesting *interactive, ongoing* experiment on the dynamics of web searching. It’s not a silver bullet, it’s not the oversimplifying, mind-reading interface you seem to be after.

    And the baby-on-crack analogy is a too-strong one, IMHO. Unnecessary and missing the mark.

    Just my 2¢.

  12. Thanks Alan for the hilariously tongue and cheek piece. Much of the material written on SEO is mind numbingly dry and lacks character. You’re colorful approach never ceases to entertain. Don’t curtail yourself because of a few wet blankets. More’ babies on crack’ please.

  13. Seriously, WTF is wrong with SEJ lately? The quality of articles on here has taken a serious nose-dive.

  14. Bruno

    Yes, as mentioned in a previous reply comment (June 8/4:00PM) , I did go to the Help link. I really do my best to put in the footwork before ranting about a subject.

    At the same time though, the help page does NOT compensate for the extremely poor quality of the user experience (as described in that reply comment).

    What this really boils down to is the fact that Google Squared is a Google product, Google is a corporation that cares about dominating the market.

    For all the gratitude I have that they came up with such an overall outstanding primary product, it does NOT discount their complete utter disregard for causing annoyance, confusion and frustration to millions of people who use any number of their other products.

    If a product doesn’t even have BASIC QA testing of the results from a wide swath of potential users before it’s released out into the public, and if that product is coming from a company as big and dominant as Google, well that’s just sad. And reflects Big Corporate culture.

    Cuil and Wolfram Alpha at least have the excuse that they’re wanna-be companies. So the fact that their products appear to have been engineered by crack addicts tempers their lack of quality.

  15. That was hilarious, I was rolling on the floor – literally holding my stomach.

    I find g^2 to be nice for searches like those you can see below the search box.
    Other than that – it is a crack baby :)

  16. I enjoyed that, well written. I will say that building a search engine is far harder work than many of you could ever imagine:

    I would also say that not all search engines are aimed at you. WA is aimed at researchers, academics, people like that. For those needs it’s quite useful, but it has problems and incomplete data because it is in “Alpha” and because it is a usage-based model.

    Cuil was a disaster.

    Squared is ok, but I’m not really seeing the value right now. It’s an experiment for me, having a play with a new layout and new idea. I’m not using it. Actually I use Duck Duck Go to collect stuff quickly if I’m writing a post or something.

    I’ll have to agree that there are other analogies you could used instead of the baby-crack one. Not smooth!

  17. ATTN ALL SEARCH ENGINES – if you are not as good at search as Google when you launch, please don’t bother launching. Honestly, I really understand how complex it is to do what you are attempting – truly I do. Yet it’s just not right to roll out a product that will only confuse and frustrate the masses.

    And if you are a search engine designed for a niche market segment, please say so on your home page in big bold letters (dare we ask for the a “blink” tag here? and stop confusing the mass market.

    You know completely well that once you announce anything that even smells like it’s a search engine, no matter how specialized your offer is, as soon as the media catches it, it’s going to snowball into “New search engine” and all the tech geeky details about why it’s only for a small segment of the world are going to be lost.

    K thnks bye

  18. Very interesting post. Good points in terms of the quality and accuracy of “information sources.” With the vast amounts of data now available on the web the possibilities for GIGO can go up significantly. And then snowball as people quote the number or fact as “I saw it on the web” or “I Googled it” which to many implicitly means it’s correct.

    Many (most) people don’t check multiple sources or engines so a single source can become their cast in concrete perception. Based both on what they find and on what they don’t find (as in Jimmy Carter example).

    Good stuff. Thanks for the insights.

  19. That was a great article. Btw… I tried to find information about Britney Spears, Baseball scores, Michael Jackson’s death and folk dance of West Africa in your blog, but was terribly disappointed that you don’t have any have them. You should atleast have articles about Paris Hilton. Every blogger has it. Even New york Times has it. Why can’t you guys?

    And if your blog designed for a niche market segment, please say so on your home page in big bold letters (dare we ask for the a “blink” tag here? that you don’t have anything about Paris Hilton, and stop confusing mass market.

    I hope you get it. Just like people go for small blogs like yours for niche and variety, instead of just hanging out at Washington Post and New york Times, people do need to have variety and niche in their searches. Plain old Google search is only as interesting as plain out New york Times, irrespective of how good their reputations are. And nobody needs to advertise in bold letters what they don’t have. It is upto the readers to decide. And those users have voted Wolfram with 100m+ searches.

    I don’t disagree with the fact that WA is pretty lousy at the moment for a lot of queries, but just plain old comparisons with big G won’t cut it. World is too big for one search engine, just like it is too big for just one data source.

  20. Balaji,

    SEJ is obviously a site devoted to information on and related to search engines. There are no claims here that this site is for anything else.

    WA specifically states in their FAQ:

    Who is Wolfram|Alpha for?

    Everyone! Its goal is to bring expert-level knowledge to everybody.

    Their home page specifically states:
    enter any town (e.g. a home town)

    I did exactly what they say their site is designed to do.

    Some of the data that came back was inaccurate at best. Other data was completely wrong.

    Google Squared invites us to “enter a topic”. I entered “Jimmy Carter”. Because to me, the man and his life, IS a topic. Anyone who thinks a major international political figure is not a topic should travel the world and visit countless institutions of higher learning where entire courses of curriculum are written on and teach about such individuals. Countless books are written about them because they are a topic unto themselves.

    The fact that G2 choked just showed that their system is no better than WA.

    But lets pretend for a minute that I really wasn’t being fair. That my concept of a topic is actually more of a niche focus and that Google Squared really isn’t capable of providing valuable information on truly niche topics.

    Click on the G2 home page link “Roller Coasters”. What comes back? Statistics that are kind of generic, and with no capacity to sort the data.

    So let’s say I want to find a grid with the FASTEST roller coasters. I tried that. What did I get back? instead of a “speed” column like their own default version has, I got a “capacity” column. Uh, I didn’t type “capacity” so what brainiac at Google Labs decided to take a word typed directly into their search box and toss out that word in favor of some other information?

    I agree that Google is not the answer to everyone’s needs. Yet making obviously flawed alternatives available is not helping address that issue.

    And from another angle, if the argument really is that it should be up to visitors to decide, then my article does just that – offers my opinion on the user experience and casts a resounding “FAIL” vote. So do many of the comments here, and other blog articles about the same subject.

    If there were a boat-load of comments in response to my article that showed how Cuill, WA and G2 really do provide better data than plain vanilla Google, your claim might have more weight. And in that case, I’d be happy to write my next article about Britney.

    Instead, the dissenting opinion in response to my article is that regardless of the quality of the experience, I should back off from stating facts based on my personal view. Sounds like you came up with your argument by using information from one of those niche engines.

  21. And Balaji – just for the record – if you had actually typed Michael Jackson in the SEJ search box, you would have seen the first two articles are in fact about Michael Jackson and his death. Just sayin.