Wednesday, July 30, 2008

New Search Engine Cuil's Premiere Violates the First Rule of Startup Show Business : Don't Go On Stage Until You are Ready

Cuil is a new search engine startup which had a faltering premiere online on Monday, July 28, 2008. The startup, headed by some search-savvy former employees of Google and backed up by a great deal of startup capital, began with a great deal of fanfare, but fell flat on its face out of the starting blocks.

The false start is epitomized by the fact that Cuil was named for a word which allegedly meant "knowledge" in Ancient Irish, although we have found no evidence for that alleged meaning online. Rather, ancient Gaelic keeayl meant "wisdom", a quality which this startup at the moment is yet lacking.

Indeed, Cuil has presumably backed itself into a modern cuil (modern Irish for "corner", old Gaelic cuilee "back room") on various fronts, especially since it has also violated the most important rule of startup show business - or any other business for that matter.

That rule is:

Don't go on stage unless you are READY.

The mere fact that Cuil search results are delivered in three columns and accompanied by images and more extensive text than at competing search engines may at first glance appear to offer some advantages, but it is not very helpful if the search results are not on target and if the image produced next to any given page description in the search results can actually stem from a completely different website than the website being described. In this regard, Cuil is a bit of a disaster. For example, when we entered the keyword LawPundit into Cuil, the search engine gave us a page full of links, some of them linking directly to LawPundit pages, but these pages were accompanied by graphics which are NOT from our LawPundit pages and from which we expressly distance ourselves. We see some severe intellectual property rights issues here if graphics or snippets of graphics not belonging to a given website are used to describe that website in a search engine.

Dear folks at Cuil, the way this looks right now, that is not going to work at all, practically OR legally.

Not just we, but many other commentators have also given Cuil relatively low marks:

The Outsidr probably has it right in Cuil Lives, Dies, Succeeds and Fails; All Within an Hour of Launch:

"I can’t remember the last time I have seen anything like this. Cuil ... literally went from being unheard of to web-famous to “able Google competitor” to crucifixion in a matter of an hour....

[W]hen a company tries to compete in a space dominated by multi-billion dollar giants, it had better bring something incredible to the table or appeal to a sizable niche. I don’t see either being the case in this instance and the stunning rush of negative press is quite likely going to be insurmountable."

SlashDot:

"Running a few searches left me underwhelmed...."

Joe Duck:
"TechCrunch and others are waxing almost poetically about the new Cuil search engines, designed by ex Googlers to compete with the mother ship. But after a few scattershot queries I’m just not feeling the power of Cuil. It still is failing to find itself for what seems like an obvious query of “Cuil Search Engine”, and for the query “computers” I’d expect a bit more than this among Cuil’s claimed inventory of 121 billion web pages:"

In fact, the rather inexcusable pre-launch euphoria at TechCrunch turned into sober reality very quickly as Michael Arrington wrote in Google Beats Cuil Hands Down In Size And Relevance, But That Isn’t The Whole Story:
"It seems pretty clear that Google’s index of web pages is significantly larger than Cuil’s unless we’re randomly choosing the wrong queries. Based on the queries above, Google is averaging nearly 10x the number of results of Cuil."

ReadWriteWeb:
"Of course, we couldn't do a comprehensive test of Cuil's 120 billion page index, but we did a couple of test searches and the results Cuil returned were often disappointing."

Fortune at CNN Money
"So far, the site has been sporadically down because of the high volume of searches, which often happens to startups on opening day."

It is really a shame that Cuil has not gotten its act together before going live. We brought a lot of sympathy to Cuil at the beginning, if only because its home info page features a megalithic photo, a megalithic area about which we write frequently. However, when we plugged in the search words megalith, megaliths or megalithic into Cuil, the results were most certainly not optimal. Whatever the algorithms in use may be, they are currently still inferior to those found at Google.

This does not mean that all is lost. Perhaps the 3-column method of presentation and more detailed text presentation per page will turn out to be useful for some purposes, but in our case, it appeared to increase search time without any apparent corresponding information benefit.

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