14ymedio, Havana, 13 July 2015 — The launching of a new Cuban Internet search engine was barely mentioned on official websites or on tonight’s national newscast.
However, it was reported that on the occasion of the Tenth Congress of the Communist Youth League, a new search engine would be launched. “Unified Contents for an Advanced Search” (“Contenidos Unificados para Búsqueda Avanzada, or “CUBA”), is meant to serve as a Cuban version of an alternative to Google.
Available through redcuba.cu, the CUBA portal provides a search engine for websites using the .cu domain. According to its developers, the idea behind CUBA is to link all websites located on Cuban servers unto one site, thus providing the user a “faster and more efficient” search engine.
This website now joins the Cuban government’s growing trend of creating imitations of the most important online resources and social media. The island already has Eucred, mimicking the free content encyclopedia Wikipedia, “La Tendedera” (“The Clothes Line”) competing with Facebook, and an alternative to the illegal “weekly packet” nicknamed “La Mochila,” or “The Backpack.” Still, none of them are as popular as the originals.
The CUBA project was developed at UCI, the University of Information Science, over three months, two of which were focused on sorting all of the country’s websites. Its developers guarantee that from the moment of its launching, it contains 500,000 indexed web pages, and among these are 6,695 using the .cu domain.
Ariagna González, director of UCI’s Center for Internet Studies and Development, told the official press that CUBA’s design is adaptable to different types of electronic devices, be they computers, tablets, or smartphones. It will allow the user to retrieve information posted on Cuban servers, and could also be an alternative for people who only have access to intranets, such as Infomed and Cubarte. Several computer users who spoke to 14ymedio agreed that “while it’s not the internet, at least it [CUBA] makes searching Cuban websites easier.” Gloria, a 34-year old user of the Cubarte intranet said that for years now she has needed “a search engine that could help me find everything from a theater group to a “Joven Club,”* and now I’m hoping to do so with this new tool.”
Others, like sixteen-year-old Anthony, are a bit more wary when it comes to recently launched CUBA: “Honestly, I prefer Google. This new search engine is like reinventing the wheel, but for the Internet. All the search engines we need have already been invented.” Anthony was connected to WiFi on Havana’s La Rampa Boulevard when 14ymedio asked for his opinion.
CUBA’s technology is based on the Orión search engine developed by UCI in 2013. In order to publicize the existence of this new tool, all “Joven Club” staff is being trained on how to instruct users on all the resources available through it. Apart from its home page, CUBA offers direct access to sites dedicated to sports, entertainment, news, health, art, and the humanities.
The real test for the search engine’s developers will be the upcoming school year when it is projected that 295 high schools and 329 trade schools throughout the whole country will be connected to the web. The plan includes connecting middle schools, special education schools, and daycare centers to the Internet before 2017, and elementary schools one year later.
Nevertheless, CUBA’s principal obstacle will be overcoming the public’s misgivings, since it seems they are more interested in using original sites than their Cuban versions.
* Translator’s Note: “Joven Club de Computación y Electrónica,” or “JCCE,” is a nationwide network of computer centers, where users only have access to the Cuban intranet. There are currently over 600 such centers throughout the island. Nevertheless, much of the equipment is obsolete, and the use of the Internet is closely monitored.
Translated by José Badué