A New Search Engine (A new kid on the Block)

Earlier this week a new search engine was announced to a certain degree of fanfare and pride. The new search engine Cuil (pronouced "cool") is an interesting search engine at best.

Enough articles and reviews have already been published discussing the developers backgrounds and their former relationship with the likes of Google, so I won't go there. What I will focus on is the quality and usability of the search results.

Ad of today, Cuil claims to have index 121,617,892,992 web pages. This is far more than Google ever claimed and to my knowledge one of the highest amount amongst all search engines. My opinion on this is "So What?". Have the biggest collection of pages means nothing if you don't produce high quality results and have a highly usable search engine.

Back when Google was starting out, I was a reluctant convert. Many kept showing me this new search engine and telling me how much they liked. What they liked was it was clean and simple (unlike the best search engine of the time Alta Vista), but it didn't support complicated searches and as a result the quality of results was some what limited. Of course, Google addressed these weaknesses early on to become the powerhouse it is today.

So let's take Cuil through its paces.

  1. Starting interface is simple and clean and with that lovely black background (reminds me of 1996 or was that 1997 when all web sites had to have a black background just because.
  2. Cuil doesn't support even a basic boolean search - I tried using a plus sign "+" between two phrases and it returned unrelated results - remove the + sign and you get better results, but not what I was looking for
  3. There is no advanced search option (i.e. if you want to exclude a specific domain from your search)
  4. The search results - now this is different.

I'm going to focus on the search results and what I do and don't like about them.

  1. There are no ads (Great for now, but for how long)
  2. A clearly visible filter for safe searching (great for keeping out questionable material from you surfers)
  3. The choice of displaying results in either 2 or 3 columns
  4. Interesting images appear next to each search results


  1. You get to choose between a 2 or 3 column results page - the columns are very narrow making it very difficult to read the result summary. It would have been better if Cuil would have embraced liquid design and allowed the columns to fill the browser window instead of a restricted width. The current design only looks good if you're using a monitor set at a resolution of 800x600 (how year 2000).
  2. There are interesting pictures next to each search results - sometimes these images are related and other times they are not. From what I could tell is Cuil has some stock images it uses if the page doesn't provide one that it wants to use based on the theme of the page. A search on my name "k'necht" yield a few results with my picture next to it and other times I have no idea of what the picture is of or how it is related to the result.
  3. Quality of the results - I found this the weakest part of Cuil. Several sites that I can easily find using Google, Yahoo or Live (always show up in the top 10 if not the top 5) and are import sites for the search term, don't show up on page 1 and in some case don't appear until page 1.

So what is clear is that Cuil has a unique approach and a completely different algorithm than 3 major search engines. Time will tell if they will be able to tweak this to start producing better quality results instead of just more pages. And lastly I appreciate their different approach to displaying the search results, but it does require a tiny bit of tweaking.


Web Builder 2.0 Here I Come Again

Once again I'm happy to announce that the best all round web development conference I've ever attended is happening again. This years Web Builder 2.0 conference will take place October 13-15 in Las Vegas Nevada at the Mirage Resort and Casino.

As with all previous Web Builder conference (except the inaugural on back 1997) I will be a presenter. I will also keep my streak alive of attending every single one (yes I was there back in 1997 when CNet kicked off this conference known then as Builder.com conference).

I've asked this year to simply reprise my address from last year. The subject matter is "Building Web Sites with Web Analytics in Mind". As so called "Web 2.0" development techniques continue to be adopted this is becoming very critical. As well Marketing Departs and senior management are now demanding even more detail of web site performance than ever before. So talks like mine where explain how both management and web development must work together to build not only a functional and effective web site, but one that can easily be measured and be flexible enough to adapt to the ever changing demands of management for measurements.

As I posted last year, this is the only conference I know of that brings together the spectrum of staff involved in web development to a single conference. In past years, I seen web project managers, hardcore java an dotnet programmers, graphic artists, usability specialists, SEO experts, marketing managers and others in attendance at this conference. This is the one conference to bring the entire team to.

So be sure to look into attending. There is an Early Bird registration special and more information at http://webbuilderconference.com/2008/default.aspx.

SEM Canada Postponed

Said news from last week is that SEM Canada scheduled for September 4th and 5th had to be canceled. I really was looking forward to this conference as the slate of speakers was outstanding.

Granted having a conference the day after Labour Day when many heads turn back to work or getting the kids off on their first day back at school may have not been the wisest, but to the idea was sound.

So the good news is that SEM Canada is still scheduled to happen, but his time it is being scheduled tentatively for October 2009. This will give the organizers much more time to secure event sponsorship and build registrant momentum. I know that I have already agreed to speak at this event and I can only hope that the slate of speakers will remain mostly intact.


Don't Forget About Dial-Up Users

To many of us who been in the Internet business since the mid 90's we remember all the issues about dial-up connections and slow speed. We knew how to design nice looking sites with small page size.

Over the past few years with the expansion of broadband access many have forgotten about the dial-up user. Well here is an interesting article about how many current dial-up users are sticking with their slower internet connections.

So with this thought in mind, here's link to the article:
Study says many dial-up users don't want broadband


WebTrends 8.5 Upgrade Success

Following the issues in my previous post, the upgrade completed successfully.

The only minor complaint were the status screens. While there has been a major improvement in terms of providing accurate time estimates, one has to remember that these are estimates and not to put too much faith in them. At least this time round, WebTrends provides a screen per module so can monitor the progress.

One one of the first screens the count got down to 5 minutes remaining and after about 3 minutes it jumped back up to 6 minutes which was about right. On the last of these screens it sat at 14 seconds for what seemed like a eternity. Fortunately it was about 6.5 minutes.

The whole upgrade on my test server (4 profiles) took approximately 45 minutes once I shut down the WebTrends Scheduler (see previous post).

I did run into one minor problem after the install. When I tried to run a profile update the update failed. I also tried to run a new profile and it also failed. After some investigation, it turned out that despite entering a new license key during the install (as early posted), WebTrends didn't retain the new 8.5 key, but instead retained the original 8.1 key. A quick delete of the old key and I activated the new key and all is good. WebTrends is now up and running and generating report data. (this issue has been reported to the WebTrends technical support team)

I'll now be putting WebTrends through its paces and should be able to report back on the quality and stability of the new GeoTrends module in a day or so.

WebTrends 8.5 Upgrade Issue

Still in the process of upgrading and ran into another minor issue.

In this instance, the upgrade had problems stopping the WebTrends Scheduler service. After 40 minutes I called tech support to report the problem. Here is the solution in case you run into the same problem.

1. Open your Task Manager
2. Click on the Process Tab and sort the list by Image Name
3. Stop the process WTxd.exd

Once this is done, the upgrade proceeded as expected. Word of caution you should wait at least 10 minutes before performing the above steps.

According WebTrends technical support a way to avoid this problem in the future is to stop all the WebTrends services manually before the upgrade with the exception of the MySQL service. The Upgrade need to talk to this database during the upgrade.

One of the major changes in this version is a new backend database. Say good-bye to MySQL and say hello to MS Express (MS SQL Express). So a major part of this upgrade is converting the old data base over. So be sure to make a full and proper back-up of everything before starting the upgrade.

WebTrends 8.5 Upgrade GeoTrends & Other Issues

I'm in the midst of upgrading my WebTrends test server from verison 8.1a to 8.5 and came across two issues. So I thought I would post these on the fly just in case anyone is planning on installing the upgrade today.

1. License Key - version 8.5 would not accept my current 8.1 license key. The reason for this is unclear as I was the first person to call into WebTrends tech support on any 8.5 issues. The problem may have just been with my key (I have a unique key for test and evaluation purposes only) or an issue with 8.5. The matter was quickly resolved by the phone call when a new 8.5 license key was issued.

2. GeoTrends - On the install screen where you point WebTrends to where your GeoTrends dat file is located, there is a warning message telling you that you must uses Geotrends version 8.200801 or later (presently this is the most current version).

I hadn't download this file before so off I went to download it. By going straight to it through the WebTrends FTP interface (FTP.webtrends.com/geotrends) it was going to take over 3 hours to download as it is over 800 megs and the site throttles download speeds (max I was getting was 76 kb/second). However on the install screen, they provide a download now button. It took just over 30 minutes for downloading from this alternative site. So if you have the time go the usual road and download it overnight, otherwise plan on 30 -45 minutes to download the dat file as part of your upgrade process.

I thought the downloading the latest dat file was a bit funny as WebTrends has been upgrading my GeoTrends database (at least according to my log files), but according to tech support, the newer GeoTrends is structured differently and version 8.5 takes advantage of this new structure.

That's it for now. The upgrade is in the process of shutting down all the WebTrends services. It's been trying to shut down the scheduler now for at least 5 minutes, but that seems normal given past experiences with WebTrends.