– the next Google?

From the way Mike Arrington carries on about it (oh and a bit more here too), you’d think so.  My initial impressions are quite different (to be fair, he does state “…it doesn’t appear to have the depth of results that Google has, despite their claims. And the results are not nearly as relevant“).

I started with the old vanity surfing evaluation.  I initially searched for plain old “cederman” (I’m number 2 on Google behind darn Lars-Erik at the moment!).

Searching for \

Very confusing list of results without any sort of rhyme or reason to them.  None of the vaunted contextual search options delineating between the few Cedermans on the web (there are only three or four of us, with three of us being published authors).  There are also some incredibly irrelevant results there, and why is an extremely old copy of my twitter page listed there, but not

“cederman-haysom”, “tim cederman” and “tim cederman-haysom” didn’t fare much better either.  Ouch, it’s not hard when there are literally only three cederman-haysoms in the world!

Anyway, whatever.  The true test of a search engine is looking for stuff that you actually want.  While TechCrunch did several broad searches (such as for “dog”, “apple”, and “france”), these are fairly rare in real world searches.  At the moment I’m planning a trip to Belgium, so I tried one of the cities I’m looking at accommodation for and trying to plan a tour of.

No results for Ghent on cuil

No results!  Search for the alternative spelling “Gent” only showed pages in Dutch.  The most curious aspect to this is that contextual search worked here.  The options shown up the top are valid Ghent related things you’d search for, and it’s actually really nice having them identified and clickable in this manner.  So why have “no results” for the main page?  Doesn’t make any sense at all…

Finally, what’s with the ordering of results?  At first I thought I had to read sideways, in rows essentially, but the results don’t line up.  If I have to read by column, then I need to scroll to the bottom, and then all the way back to the top.  Without a sense of relevance, it’s very disconcerting, particularly if you’re searching for something you don’t know much about.  Sure it might help provide some users with a shotgun spray of results, but I think there’s a good reason why Google’s layout still works best.

As an example, imagine someone looking to buy a new Roomba:

Results for searching for a cheap Roomba on Cuil

While Arrington also states “I want to reemphasize that Cuil is only an hour old at this point, Google has had a decade to perfect their search engine.”  This is disingenuous to say the least.  Cuil is certainly not an hour old, and Google was VERY impressive when it first launched.

Still, I’ll have a close eye on what they do next.

The Anti-Portfolio

Found this great link from Hacker NewsBessemer Venture Partners’ anti-portfolio.

Everyone likes to highlight their strengths and past successes, but there’s something impressive about being able to admit mistakes, on your corporate site no less.  I can only hope that the implication is that they have learned from these mistakes.

Highlights of investment opportunities passed over include:

  • Apple
  • eBay
  • Google
  • Intel
  • Intuit
  • PayPal

Also some refreshingly honest reasons for why they missed out, including this fantastic description of passing on Google:

Cowan’s college friend rented her garage to Sergey and Larry for their first year. In 1999 and 2000 she tried to introduce Cowan to “these two really smart Stanford students writing a search engine”. Students? A new search engine? In the most important moment ever for Bessemer’s anti-portfolio, Cowan asked her, “How can I get out of this house without going anywhere near your garage?”

Turn your iPhone into a wifi Skype phone

There has been a lot of buzz on the intertubes today about Fring.  They’re an Israeli startup who released a fairly popular mobile chat client.  That’s simplifying things – in addition to supporting every major IM client, Fring automatically logs you into wireless hotspots, does VOIP and allows file transfers.  It’s like a mobile version of Trillian on steroids.

I’d heard bits and pieces about it, but hadn’t really been that interested.  That changed when I was browsing The Unofficial Apple Weblog and read their post about trying out the new beta of Fring on the iPhone.  If you have a jailbroken iPhone then this is easily the best application you can get for it.  Certainly a lot of other bloggers seem to agree.

A bit of backstory as to why I am so excited about this.  When I first moved to the US in July of 2006, I was staying with friends for a while and moving around a lot.  I purchased a SkypeIn number.  Two in fact – one for the US and one for Australia.  This meant people back home could call me for the cost of a local call, and I could also have a local number here that wasn’t a cell phone (I’m not a fan of the paying to receive calls model prevalent here).  Making US based calls was free until the start of 2007, and after that I purchased unlimited calling.  Now I’m on Skype Pro, and for $3 a month I get unlimited US calls and a whole slew of other benefits and discounts.

When I started renting my own place, rather than reconnect the phone line, I bought a Skype phone.  I just plug a network cable into the back of my Netgear SPH200D, give my account details and it just works.  I don’t even feel like I’m making Internet calls – it’s just a home phone to me, and to anyone who’s calling me, thanks to SkypeIn.

I had trialled the Belkin Wifi Skype phone for a couple of months.  This was easily the worst product I can think of using in the last 10 years.  I cannot even begin to explain just how bad this product was.  Slow, unresponsive, ugly, cheaply made and unreliable to start with.  Poor battery life, terrible call quality and broken functionality topped it off.  Wow, the designer in me shudders just thinking about how awful that phone was.

Since the iPhone came out I’d idly wondered if a Skype client would ever be released.  I figured if it did, it was a long-time coming.  Then along came Fring.

While it was somewhat fiddly to install (adding a new source in the Installer application), setting it up was a breeze.  Within just a few minutes I was making my first test call.  And it worked.  Amazingly so.


The best bit though is that while I can make calls on my home Skype phone, it is useless for sending and receiving messages.  Fring’s IM feature is very slick, and I love that I now have dedicated Google Talk and Skype on my iPhone.  Previously I had to use Meebo for Google Talk.  I notice they also appear to have gotten around the “one app at a time” limitation of the iPhone.  Pressing home just minimises the app, and I am able to receive calls and IMs with it in the home screen or even if it is locked which is great.

So basically I now have one phone for everything (except for one thing, which I’ll get to in a minute).  I can now make my cheap international calls at home from my mobile rather than switching to the Netgear phone (I wonder how worried they are about this development?).  I’m a big fan of minimalist setups, and so this pleases me no end.

Some notes on using it so far.  Calling my iPhone number from Fring makes it do odd things.  The “incoming call” dialogue pops up, but then it tries to switch back to Fring and just hangs.  Some outgoing calls seem to fail.  There are some definite UI issues (particularly with number dialling – requiring a “+” for outgoing numbers).   I also couldn’t accept add requests.  But the main problem seems to be no SkypeIn!  I’m not sure what the limitation here is, but calling my SkypeIn number doesn’t result in a call appearing which is kind of a bummer.  It’s also weird, because I can receive calls from Skype contacts just fine.

I have a few questions though, particularly given how slick and just plain good this product is.  Firstly, how did they get Skype access?  I could probably Google an answer, but I’m just surprised that there is Skype access on a free product, given it is a proprietary setup and they would have had to license some libraries.  Ok, I actually bothered doing a search and they are using the Skype API.  More importantly though is how on Earth do they plan to make money?  There are no ads, and while the server load isn’t high, there’s obviously been a lot of development (several years worth based on what I found about the company).  I tried checking to see if they had any plans or if anyone had even any speculation and all I found were a few articles:

From 2006:

An Israeli company has just rolled out a service (beta) that might cut into the Skype subscriber base by allowing users to make free VoIP calls using any 3G handset. Fring is the word and the service is free now until the commercial offering appears around the end of this year. What the innovative service lets subscribers do is call any other fring subscriber for free anywhere in the world. Fring members can also call Skype and other VoIP service subscribers using any 3G-enabled handset. Fring uses your existing data plan to make calls over the network thus saving the caller from using any phone minutes. It’s not clear what fring’s business model will be but for the time being it’s free so what are you waiting for?

From 2007:

Shechter said fring is committed to improving the quality of its product and will be adding innovative new features to it over time.

As per the press release, fring is “100 percent free with no subscription costs; consumers simply pay for the data they use under their existing line rental agreement.” (Therefore, the plan under which a customer pays for data transactions, including any limits therein, comes into play.)

It looks like they recently got 12 million in second round funding.  Whatever their plans, I’m enjoying it for now despite its limitations.  If you have an iPhone, what are you waiting for?  Jailbreak that guy and install Fring.