Is Cuil the Internet startup Joke of the Year?

Posted on August 7, 2008 · Posted in Out on a Limb, Search Engines

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.>

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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.