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Former Google engineers trot out new search engine

SAN FRANCISCO — Anna Patterson's last Internet search engine was so impressive that industry leader Google Inc. bought the technology in 2004 to upgrade its own system.

She believes her latest invention is even more valuable — only this time it's not for sale.

Patterson instead intends to upstage Google, which she quit in 2006 to develop a more comprehensive and efficient way to scour the Internet.

The end result is Cuil, pronounced ”cool.“ Backed by $33 million in venture capital, the search engine began processing requests for the first time Monday.

Cuil had kept a low profile while Patterson, her husband, Tom Costello, and two other former Google engineers — Russell Power and Louis Monier — searched for better ways to search.

But now it's time to boast.

For starters, Cuil's search index spans 120 billion Web pages.

Patterson believes that's at least three times the size of Google's index, although there is no way to know for certain. Google stopped publicly quantifying its index's breadth nearly three years ago when the catalog spanned 8.2 billion Web pages.

Cuil believes it will outshine Google in several other ways, too, including its method for identifying and displaying pertinent results.

Rather than trying to mimic Google's method of ranking the quantity and quality of links to Web sites, Patterson says Cuil's technology drills into the actual content of a page. And Cuil's results will be presented in a more magazinelike format instead of just a vertical stack of Web links. Cuil's results are displayed with more photos spread horizontally across the page, and they include sidebars that can be clicked on to learn more about topics related to the original search request.

Finally, Cuil is hoping to attract traffic by promising not to retain information about its users' search histories or surfing patterns — something that Google does, much to the consternation of privacy watchdogs.

Google welcomed Cuil to the fray with its usual mantra about its rivals. ”Having great competitors is a huge benefit to us and everyone in the search space,“ said spokeswoman Katie Watson. ”It makes us all work harder, and at the end of the day our users benefit from that.“

It may not have anything to worry about. Google has become so synonymous with Internet search that it may no longer matter how good Cuil or any other challenger is, said Gartner Inc. analyst Allen Weiner.

”Search has become as much about branding as anything else,“ Weiner said. ”I doubt (Cuil) will be keeping anyone at Google awake at night.“

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