Is Cuil the Internet startup Joke of the Year?

Written on August 7, 2008 – 12:34 pm | by bigoak |

Every Internet startup company deserves a chance to prove itself. Unless, of course, that startup comes out of the gate and immediately starts making bombastic claims like “We’re better than Google” and “we index more of the web then they do.” Then an examiner has every right to shove that startup under a microscope and pull out its insides. But, in Cuil’s case, you don’t need to pick apart its internal organs to uncover its deficiencies. In fact, all you have to do is a simple long tail search, like “how to train a cat.” <click image for larger view.>

click to enlarge

So, what’s wrong with this picture? Well, for starters, if Cuil has 120 billion pages indexed, then why is it only displaying about three thousand for this keyword, which is roughly 29 million less than what Google shows. Secondly, why are there two pictures of dogs on the page? I recall searching for cats. Thirdly, why is there a Tropicana can on the page? I could go on, but I’ll stop in the interest of time.

Why don’t we look at another long tail keyword people might search for, like “how to give a dog a haircut.”

No results. I suppose if Cuil has its way, we’ll all live in a society where dogs walk around with hideously long hair.

Now, I don’t wish Cuil to fail. Quite the contrary, I think any competition in the search space is desirable. But, sadly, I think Cuil may end up going down in history as one of the most “borked” Internet startup companies of all time. Venture capitalists gave 33 million to a search engine that couldn’t even handle long tail searches on its launch date. Seriously? Have we entered the twilight zone? Ever heard of a soft opening, Cuil? If their algorithm was truly going to be as underdeveloped as it was on its launch date, they should have announced a public beta (and had it be real beta and not just a catch phrase). Instead, Cuil did the complete opposite. They worked the media to ensure they would be mentioned everywhere on their launch date and hyped their product to ludicrous proportions.

The often spouted but obviously wrong cliché is that all publicity is good publicity. Let’s evaluate that cliché in terms of Cuil. Now Cuil is in a hole it has to dig itself out of. The general perception is that its algorithm is awful, and the burden is on Cuil to make people change that perception. Is this really where Cuil wanted to be? Is this the finest demonstration of why all publicity is allegedly good publicity?

At least search engines like Powerset and SearchMe had premises they could back up. Powerset said it could handle natural language search, and it does an adequate job (depending on many variables). SearchMe merely claimed to offer a visual display of search results. Cuil’s tagline is that it indexes more of the web than Google. You’re really just asking for it when you say that.

I’ll end this rant with two predictions. 1.) Someone at Cuil will come across this article and attempt to fix the search results for the keywords I mentioned and 2.) when someone mentions the name Cuil a year from now, the person standing next to him will have to choke to hold back his laughter.

Now it’s Cuil’s job to prove me wrong. They do have a lot of that venture capital still sitting in the bank.

  1. 9 Responses to “Is Cuil the Internet startup Joke of the Year?”

  2. By Jenniferlauren on Aug 7, 2008 | Reply

    It’s hard to imagine Cuil doing anything but incremental changes to what Google’s done. And even that would take years of effort.

    Me.dium.com has taken a different tack. We have a full web index, but we change the search results based on the surfing activity of our user base (now over 2,000,000). It’s in alpha, but I’d be curious to hear your thoughts. http://me.dium.com/search

    Feel free to email me with any questions, Jboyle@me.dium.com

  3. By Shell Harris on Aug 7, 2008 | Reply

    I agree with your observations, Will. I also hope they will become a force on the Net, but I have my serious doubts. Google is too big and too powerful now. This country thrives on competition and the Big G certainly needs some of that.

  4. By wordvixen on Aug 7, 2008 | Reply

    I’m so out of the loop. Until I saw the tweet for this post, I thought “cuil” was another attempt at re-spelling “cool” like they tried in the 90′s with “kewl”. *sigh*

    Honestly, a name like Cuil isn’t going to help their marketing efforts since you don’t automatically know how to pronounce it. I can’t ever see people telling someone to just “cuil it”.

  5. By Tannaz on Aug 7, 2008 | Reply

    Cuil would be cooler with a niche like many other search engines out there (eg http://www.NextBio.com) It is tough when you fail to deliver what you promised. Maybe a little bit of humbleness could have paid off (specially when competing with the “Big G”) However, they have done a great job being noticed and spoken about.

    In the spirit of full disclosure I am an intern at NextBio and amazed with their search engine and what they offer to the life science community.

  6. By Tim on Aug 7, 2008 | Reply

    I agree with the statement they should have gone with a soft launch (beta) rather then saying here is the best we can do, enjoy.

    Like most people the first time I used the site will also be my last.

    Problems:
    > IMHO the site looks like it was designed by a programmer, not a designer.
    > Having to send an email to them when you get no results is a joke when anybody with a clue simply would have had the code add that search term to an exception list for manual/automatic review.
    > How do you add your url to cuil? even their own search feature doesn’t return a result.
    > A simple ‘make this my homepage’ link could have bought some repeat traffic, again, not there.
    > As most bloggers across the net have pointed out the results in most cases are irrelevant.

    the old adage first impressions count are all to true with start ups and essentially cuil is one ugly duck!

  7. By morgan on Aug 8, 2008 | Reply

    Ah, Cuil, the search engine now everyone loves to loathe. I was sitting in a meeting with people who consider themselves relatively computer literate and search savvy when someone brought up the subject of Cuil. Many people not knowing what it was, we did what most people do who have a large computer monitor at their disposal: we went to the site up for everyone to…um…admire.

    Which, sadly, was about as far as we got. We popped in a few search terms, got some results and that’s when the hilarity ensued. “What’s the top result?” “How come there’s so much real estate taken up by pictures and what are those sentences?” “Why doesn’t anything line up, it looks like a five-year-old put this together.” At this point, we had to surf away because the room was breaking down into sheer silliness. Do I think The Google Machine needs some competition? Without a doubt. Is Cuil it? All signs point to no. Kudos to them though for making such a mess of it…I fully agree that a soft launch was the only sensible way to go.

  8. By Will on Aug 9, 2008 | Reply

    @Jennifer, I have fooled with me.dium, and I think it’s solid. The concept is excellent (as long as you can control manipulation), and the detailed level of stat reporting is nice.

    @wordvixen, I can’t imagine people telling each other to “just Cuil it” either. But I also can’t imagine them saying “just Yahoo it” or “just Live it.” On the other hand, I can imagine people telling each other to “me.dium it up.”

    @Tannaz, true, they have done a good job engendering attention. But they weren’t ready for it.

    @Tim, I agree. They should have created a form to make it easier to report results desperately in need of seasoning.

    @Morgan, funny story.

  9. By Stuey on Aug 20, 2008 | Reply

    For something that heralded itself as focusing purely on the basics Ie the number of pages it can take results from it certainly seems to have a tough time retrieving relevant results. I’d very much like to see a profile of what sites make up it’s 121,617,892,992 entries.

    A promising beginning but I think they’ve used up all the hype-credit they generated with their initial launch.

    Check again in 3 months or so I think.

  10. By Johnson on May 19, 2009 | Reply

    Anyone who invested in Cuil was a Fuil.

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