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Spammers, Cuil, and the rescue from planet Google

Out-Googling Google is not an option

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Analysis Plenty of digital ink has been needlessly spilt this week over the launch of the suicidally-monikered new search engine Cuil.com. But the only threat to Google is itself and, in a roundabout way, the legion of spammers and "search engine optimisation" (SEO) consultants that buttress its dominance.

These dog days of summer prompted feverish hacks to ponder whether the web empire of the mighty Google might be threatened by its former employees' efforts. Ex-Googlers! Bigger index! Unusual presentation! - reports recorded in a cacophony of utter pointlessness.

In fairness, most concluded that Cuil would not be a "Google Killer". But the pondering over its chance would be laughable if it weren't so boring. We offered brief coverage of the launch here (really NSFW), to note that the results are a bit rubbish, and in some cases obscene. Our second report lifts the lid on the company's cake budget.

Romancing the Google

With a little thought, Cuil not being as good as Google at finding what we want online is the least surprising piece of news since people familiar with the situation said JPII was partial to fish on a Friday. In 2008, Mountain View's all-seeing algorithms in many ways are the web.

It's easy to identify what happened. When it first surfaced in 1998, Google made sense of the web a bit better than anyone else. It was a useful improvement on existing services. Ten years later, the web does its best to make sense of Google.

The sorry upshot is that barring some unimaginable technological leap no search engine's results will ever be better than Google's, at least in the West. And the switch leaves the likes of Microsoft and Cuil (and a dozen other doomed start-ups) effectively attempting to reverse-engineer Google, not understand the information on the web.

Microsoft's recent purchase of natural language search start-up Powerset should provide a case in point. Like many others hungry for a slice of the hugely profitable contextual search advertising business Google has created, Powerset's founders are betting web users want to ask search engines real grammatical questions.

But keyword searches, which the vast majority are adept at now, are faster for users. So the web has adapted to attract their, and Google's, attention.

Other People's Google

The people at the vanguard of reverse-engineering Google are not its jealous search rivals. They're the spammers and SEO consultants. They have driven an ever-closer relationship between the quirks and whims of Google's algorithms and policies, and the structure and content of the web. It's a feedback loop that was unavoidable once Google's early rivals proved unable to respond to its better search results and presentation.

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